Unshelved by Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum
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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Plan wisely, live fully

There were several articles in Medscape (viewable with free registration) about the need to plan communities for better health for children. This one Poor Air Quality, Pollution Endanger Health of Children suggests increasing density of development with greater mass transit and walkability. I'm not sure that's the key. What we do need to do is make livable communities that you can get through without relying on a car. For example, when they built Hamburg Pavillion, or as I like to call it, 'the world's biggest strip mall', they plopped down stores all over the acreage that as a whole you can't really browse as a pedestrian without some serious danger. Instead, people take their cars to one or the other as they go about their shopping. If you do take the bus to Hamburg, you take your life in your hands by dodging traffic as you navigate the crossings on roads that are confusing for drivers.

When did we lose the sense of communities? Why not build our developments so that 1) traffic doesn't rush through, 2) important centres like groceries and libraries are reachable by bike or walking, and 3) there's plenty of green space to help counter pollution and give residents a sense of living with nature rather than in spite of it? Encourage community gardens and parks. Don't build houses so densely that they are abutted to the point where you can see everything your neighbours do. Bring back the front porch that one can sit on, maybe have a porch swing on. Increase neighbourhood watches.

Isn't it sad that we have to have ad campaigns just to get our kids to go outside? Is it any wonder when, in additon to all the recreation available inside (and by that I mean TV and video games, and yes, even books) we have busy streets and the fear of strangers bred by media stories? When I was a kid, especially in summer, I spent most of the daylight hours available outside--and I was a slightly chubby kid who read a lot, but even so, I rode my bike, played tag, ran around, did all those things, and was far healthier than I am now. I happen to live in a neighbourhood where I can ride a bike or walk...but to get to anything of importance, like the store or the library or work, I have to cross one or two of the busiest streets in the city. It's a little frustrating. On the one hand I live within easy range of a hospital, a Kroger, a Wal-Mart, banks, a library, several gas stations, and all sorts of restaurants and small stores. On the other hand, it's dangerous to go that way.

I'm thinking of getting a bike (I found a Roadmaster yesterday for only $53) for that trek, because when they redid Richmond Road, they put in bike lanes, and with a light array, I'd actually be more visible at night. Plus, all the buses have carriers for bikes. Plus I can ride it to a nearby park which has a bike trail. I so need some sort of exercise, and it's pretty decent on my knees, if not my buttocks. :)

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