Build it and they will come . . . and they’ll be healthy. That’s the idea behind the “built communities” movement. Think walkable neighborhoods, easy access to mass transit, multi-use buildings, and nearby groceries and farmers’ markets.
Dr. Richard Jackson of the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health is a national leader in built communities, and he’s worried about the rising rates of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and other preventable diseases in the U.S. He says that when neighborhoods are designed putting people first, rather than businesses or cars, the result is a more unified community and a healthier population.
“The core of this is that we need to make it much easier for people to eat healthy food, and also make it much easier for us to have lots of incidental exercise.”
Denver Housing Authority senior developer Kimball Crangle says the Mariposa/South Lincoln district is being transformed in the built communities model.
“We want people to not be dependent on automobiles, but put infrastructure in place that supports walking, biking and car sharing.”
Crangle says gentrifying the South Lincoln area isn’t the goal. They want to maintain a diversity of race, income and age.
“The La Alma neighborhood has a very steep cultural presence in Denver. And so by incorporating the creative class into what we’re doing, there’s a much broader acceptance of different kinds of people.”
Jackson says the impacts of this sort of development ripple far beyond the built community.
“We’re at a window of opportunity, and this is good for the planet, it’s good for our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren and it’s good for our economy right now.”
Jackson offers Boulder as a great local example of a built community: between a healthy mass transit system and a myriad of walking and bike paths, a person could easily live, shop and work without needing a car. The Colorado Health Foundation recently announced a $4.5 million initiative to help create similar people-friendly spaces across Colorado.