The built environment is the human-made space in which we all live, work and play every day. This infrastructure—homes, city buildings, sidewalks, roads, parks, etc.—surrounds every person and influences how they live. Communities designed to make it safe to walk to work, school, the shopping center or the neighborhood park create opportunities for residents to engage in physical activity as part of the daily routine.
Daily activity is largely absent from the modern American life. Only about 25 percent of U.S. adults get the recommended amount of daily exercise. The lack of physical activity contributes to the obesity epidemic, but many communities are still built with cars in mind. Subtle design features—such as how many parking spaces are available in front of a store or the number of times a sidewalk ebbs to allow cars to cross—can discourage pedestrian activity.
The Surgeon General released a call to action to promote walking and walkable communities in 2015 as a way to fight obesity and other chronic diseases. Nearly 50 percent of adults, 117 million, live with a chronic disease; 60 percent of those have two or more chronic diseases. Physical activity is one of the most important changes people can make to improve their health and reduce their risk of heart disease, stroke, some cancers and diabetes.
Walking is getting attention as a public health strategy because it’s easy! It does not require special equipment, training or skills, it is low-impact and has little risk of injury, and is easy to fit into a daily routine. It is also a good way to start being active if a person hasn’t been lately, since walking is easily adapted to different fitness levels and abilities. If you’re a multi-tasker, walking can do double-duty as a form of transportation.
Several communities in the Greater Kansas City area and in Johnson County are making pedestrian-friendly changes to new and revitalized developments. For example, the Lenexa City Center at 87th and Renner Boulevard (West of I-35) has a vision statement stating that they want to be “…a leader in quality, innovative building design, and user-friendly commercial spaces.” Much of the user-friendliness of this area comes in the form of pedestrian amenities like wide sidewalks, green space between the sidewalk and the street, well-marked crosswalks, and mixed-use development, which makes the concept of walking to work, restaurants, and other businesses a possibility.
The County’s two largest cities, Overland Park and Olathe, have 878 and 613 miles of sidewalk, respectively. So the next time you are about to hop in your car to go a few blocks for lunch or on an errand, why not put on your walking shoes and hop on a sidewalk? Your body will thank you.