Walkability Expert Offers Insight on Building Healthy Communities

Mark 2Imagine 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.

This difficult challenge is one of the reasons that Healthy Central Florida (HCF) brought Mark Fenton to Winter Park. He came to guide leaders in a substantive discussion about how to design local communities 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,” said Jill Hamilton Buss, HCF Executive Director.

“We should employ the evidence-based strategies that abound, every time we resurface a road or issue a permit,” she added. “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, she said, noting the communities 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, according to Ms. Buss, one more step in HCF’s efforts to help build the healthiest communities in the nation.

To view Mark’s presentation, click here. To learn about next steps or to join HCF in this work, email [email protected]