Public Health at Work: Case Studies of Successful Programs at the Local Level

By Lehmann, Erika; Oehmke, Nicole | Parks & Recreation, November 2012 | Go to article overview

Public Health at Work: Case Studies of Successful Programs at the Local Level


Lehmann, Erika, Oehmke, Nicole, Parks & Recreation


AS YOU'VE CERTAINLY READ IN THESE PAGES BEFORE, obesity is a national crisis reaching epidemic levels, and park and recreation agencies across the country are taking strides to combat the problem. However, parks have been readily accessible to the public long before the obesity crisis reached critical levels, so to make an impact, recreation leaders will need to come up with innovative strategies to get their communities physically engaged and using their parks to their full potential.

In Corpus Christi, Texas, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, city officials are trying new ideas to shake up their communities and break local residents out of their increasingly sedentary lifestyles. The below case studies showcase the specific problems in these two cities and detail the initiatives local officials and park agencies are taking to fight back.

CASE STUDY 1

Mayor's Fitness Councit Gets Corpus Christi Rotting Down a New Trait

Most cities vie to be "first" in something, but when Corpus Christi, Texas, was named the "Fattest City in the United States" in 2010 by Men's Health, city leadership sought to quickly shed the pounds (and the title) by establishing a Mayor's Fitness Council to promote healthier lifestyles.

While amenities are plentiful, including a beautiful marina and the Gulf waters, multiple barriers exist for accessing them. Existing hike and bike trails are in limited segments, separated by many miles of very busy streets. Texas has a strong "car culture" that does not consider bicycles a legitimate form of transportation, and acts of harassment against bicyclists are common. Consequently, many people in Corpus Christi perceive bicycling as "too dangerous."

The Mayor's Fitness Council (MFC) included representatives from Corpus Christi Parks and Recreation, a school district superintendent, a county health director, the city planning department, and others. As the MFC was discussing options to get Corpus Christi moving, a convergence of opportunities led them to the right path: Improving bikeability and walkability. The council was able to tie this goal into the regional visioning for the Coastal Bend to transform Corpus Christi into a more bike- and pedestrian-friendly and sustainable community. They were able to secure funding through the Bold Future Initiative and TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) funds for sustainable energy. In conjunction with the TARP energy assessment, the city decided to do a mobility assessment and included hike and bike priorities explicitly in TARP.

Initially, it was challenging to involve citizens in this effort because of the strong car culture. The MFC engaged the help of a local bike shop owner to generate interest in a non-motorized transportation plan. The bike shop owner became a community champion for the effort by helping to sponsor a town hall meeting, negotiating access to space, donating prizes to support the hike and bike plan effort, and disseminating information through his highly vested network of bicyclists.

At the town hall meeting, researchers demonstrated how Corpus Christi's current sprawling, car-centric layout had a high cost to the city in the form of current and future demand on utilities. Plans for new multi-use development and multi-modal transportation were presented to the public. Between the buzz generated by town hall meetings and other opportunities for citizen input, the city made an additional commitment to develop a hike and bike master plan by spring 2013.

This enthusiasm has spread to include public-private partnerships and volunteer opportunities to support expansion of existing trails and development of new trails. Next steps for the project include linking neighborhoods to schools and developing unused easements along drainage ditches for hike and bike trails. Creative thinking and engaging many types of stakeholders is helping to create a culture of walking and biking for Corpus Christi. …

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