City Planning May Lead to Obesity

Your neighborhood may be making you fat. The Center for Disease Control says urban sprawl could lead to waistline sprawl because of a lack of sidewalks. The CDC and pedestrian advocacy groups claim neighborhoods are spread out and isolated from schools, work, and shopping. That forces Americans to drive rather than walk.

The neighborhood around Andy Woods Elementary in Tyler is the type of community the Centers for Disease Control says promotes a healthy lifestyle. It has sidewalks near houses within walking distance of churches, businesses, and even schools. Around 13% of the students at Andy Woods either walk or ride their bikes to school. That's a little above the national average.  Principal Connie Moore says that means kids get better exercise while heading to and from school. "We would want our children to be physically active, and very phsically healthy in all phases of their lives starting in the morning."

But not all neighborhoods are this kind to walkers. Many don't have sidewalks. Others are miles away from schools, or too close to busy streets. Take Caldwell Elementary. Yes, there are crosswalks, but kids would have to travel five lanes of heavy traffic across Front Street in Downtown Tyler use them. It's a problem the city says it's working on.

"We spent several million dollars over the last few years on facilities like Faulkner Park, Glass Recreation Center," says Mayor Joey Seeber. "We continue the development of the Rose Rudman Trails. And then several years ago we began requiring new subdivisions to put sidewalks in."

Many new developments are trying to support a healthier lifestyle for residents. They feature walkpaths through greenbelt areas near houses and schools and shopping. But, this type of development can be expensive.

Brent Conaway of Conaway Homes says a recent neighborhood development in Jacksonville features the walkpaths and access to shopping and schools. But to do it, more than 15 acres had to be donated back to the city as parkland. "It takes a lot of money. There's a lot of risk in going out and putting this kind of infrastructure down. To get all of the land owners together, you've got to have deep pockets and you've got to have time."

So, promoting healthier neighborhoods may come down to time and money. The City of Tyler wants all of it's parks to be connected through Rose Rudman Park by a series of greenbelts and walkpaths. But that's a long term plan, which could take decades to complete. And the city hasn't yet put a dollar figure on the final project.

Many so called Master Planned communities around large cities do encourage walking access to shopping, parks, and schools. But those projects require several thousand acres of land, and dozens of years to develop.

Stephen Parr, reporting.