Junk food. Lack of exercise. Sedentary lifestyles. They’re the usual factors people point to when discussing America’s obesity epidemic. Dr. Richard Jackson, however, believes policymakers have overlooked a key cause of many of the nation’s health woes: bad community design.
Jackson -- the former director of the National Center for Environmental Health at the Centers for Disease Control -- recently hosted a four-part PBS series on the topic. Titled Designing Healthy Communities, the series examined the connection between community design and such growing public health problems as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, asthma and more. According to Dr. Jackson, in fact, many of America’s current health crises can be traced to poor community planning of the mid-20th century.
So what constitutes bad community design? Some of the common characteristics, Jackson contends, include:
- limited walking space
- lack of sidewalks
- lack of access to parks
- little or no access to the natural environment
- limited opportunities for community socialization
In contrast, many of the attributes identified in the series as contributing to residents’ health and well being are hallmarks of master-planned communities, including:
- Walkability: Well-designed communities are walkable areas featuring safe, well-lighted sidewalks that connect neighborhoods and encourage less dependency on automobiles. Many feature centrally located town centers that offer shops and services within a short walk or bike ride from home.
- Family-friendly: New home communities that offer a wide range of amenities -- including swimming pools, athletic courts and fitness centers -- encourage a more active and healthy lifestyle.
- Access to nature: Walking trails, parks and nature preserves contribute immeasurably to a community’s quality of life while also offering improved air quality.
- Strong social fabric: Clubs, interest groups and organized resident events and activities foster a sense of community, resulting in lower incidences of isolation and depression.
“Safe, walkable neighborhoods are not just an amenity, they’re a matter of life or death,” Jackson writes in an article in The Atlantic Cities. “They create environments where we can live active, engaged lives. And more walking brings more social interaction, more time outdoors, more recreation, more smiles and more ‘life’ in every sense.”
For information on how Nocatee incorporates these elements of optimal community design, including amenities, social events and access to nature, visit the Nocatee Welcome Center or call 1-800-NOCATEE.