Imagine you are eight or nine years old again. What was your favorite memory of playing when you were a kid? That’s the question Mark Fenton, a national walkability expert, posed to the Winter Park City Commission and to other community leaders on a recent visit to Central Florida.
“Building a fort”, “riding my bike with friends”, “playing kickball in a field by our house”, “running around the neighborhood”, “just playing outside…” These were just some of the many answers from participants.
“How many of those activities involved uniforms or structured play?” Mark asked. No hands went up.
“How many of those activities were closely supervised by adults?” Still no hands were raised.
“We’ve just described the end of ‘free-range’ kids,” Mark said. He observed that kids are now driven everywhere, told when and how to play and supervised by adults while they do it. He then asked, “Is that a good thing?” A collective sigh and a resounding “No” was the consensus.
“So what are you going to do about it?” he questioned the group.
Indeed. What are we going to do about it? How do we help children and adults have the opportunity to move freely again and to play safely? How do we make our streets, neighborhoods, schools and parks connected and easily accessible by bicycle and on foot? How do we help parents and kids feel safe?
This difficult challenge is one of the reasons that Healthy Central Florida brought Mark Fenton to town. He came to guide leaders in a substantive discussion about how to design our community for health – and safety. Of course the solutions aren’t simple or quick, but we do know what works — and we don’t have a moment to waste.
We should employ the evidence-based strategies that abound, every time we resurface a road or issue a permit. We’ve got to think of the pedestrian, the cyclist, an 8-year-old child and an 88-year-old grandmother. Further, we need to consider someone with a walker or who is vision-impaired. Residents of all ages and abilities must be accounted for in the design of a building, a parking lot or a roadway project.
There is ample evidence showing us how to design communities, streets and sidewalks to encourage safe walking and biking. Simultaneously, we need to focus on effective education, engineering and enforcement strategies too.
The workshop with the Winter Park City Commission, the Winter Park Bicycle Pedestrian and Advisory Committee, city staff and with other regional leaders and concerned citizens was one more step in our journey toward making our communities the healthiest in the nation.