Living in the greater San Antonio area, we are part of a large metropolitan environment. All of the humanmade structures and improvements in San Antonio form the “built environment” that we navigate and interact with each day.
Last month I received an infusion of new ideas and insights during the Public Health & The Built Environment Conference, hosted by San Antonio’s Metropolitan Health District.
The built environment is an important concept for every San Antonio-area resident to understand and think about.
San Antonio is actually a collection of many built environments. My neighborhood is one example. More than 40 years ago, engineers planning my neighborhood’s development plotted the feeder roads and individual residential streets, determining lengths and widths, twists and turns. They mapped out the lots and set aside areas for open spaces, a pool and tennis courts.
Like most neighborhoods in America designed within the last 60-70 years, mine was designed almost exclusively for the efficient movement of automobiles. There are no walking or bike lanes, almost no “traffic calming” devices to reduce vehicle speeds on neighborhood streets, and even the sidewalks are unusable because of mailbox placements. Most of my neighbors don’t walk a block to the pool or tennis courts; they drive, because without sidewalks or crosswalks, the environment sends a daily message that the streets are for cars, not people.
Imagine if the engineers designing my neighborhood had children and human-powered transportation in mind. Imagine 5-foot-wide sidewalks set back 8 feet from the curb; imagine traffic-calming features that limited the speeds cars could safely drive through the neighborhood; imagine separate bike lanes. Would my neighborhood be more kid-friendly? Would it be safer? Would more of my neighbors get out and walk or jog or cycle for exercise? I believe the answer in every case is yes.
Expand that realization out to our larger metropolitan area, and you can see the powerful influence our built environment has on our lives (and our health!). You can also understand the importance of working to influence the growth and development of our built environment.
Thankfully, as the built environment conference demonstrated, residents are becoming educated and getting involved. Community leaders are taking notice and speaking out. Our city now has more activity-focused park spaces, more miles of hike-and-bike trails and more bike lanes than ever, and more are coming.
A more walkable, bikeable, accessible city is on the horizon. That translates to a more healthy community, a more active community and a better quality of life for all of us.
Have a joyous June!
Joel Shuler, Publisher