Wednesday , December 13 2017

“I wanted to use this time to learn as much as I could on walkability in small town and rural environments.”

Matt Coleman
Primary Prevention Coordinator
Tennessee Department of Health

Matthew Coleman
The Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) is committed to accelerating our progress in health in Tennessee.  Our nation is suffering from an epidemic of chronic disease, a preventable epidemic enabled by the places, spaces, and choices that challenge our health on a daily basis.  This is the health crisis of our time.  Behind the crisis are what we in TDH call the "Big Four"; excessive caloric intake, physical inactivity, tobacco and nicotine addiction, and substance misuse disorders.  Taken together, they are driving all 10 of our 10 leading causes of death and are by far the greatest health challenges facing our state and nation.  We know we cannot treat our way out, but we can prevent our way out, through Primary Prevention Initiatives (PPI).   PPI is an innovative approach that gives all TDH employees paid time to get outside the walls of the health department, and be involved with a community initiative that is focused on improving the health of their local community, such as sitting on a greenway advisory committee, writing a grant for a school playground, working on a community garden, tutoring a student, and much more.  However, a major focus of our primary prevention initiatives is with physical activity and built environment.

As a first time attendee to the National Walking Summit, I wanted to use this time to learn as much as I could on walkability in small town and rural environments.  The first breakout session I attended was “The View from City Hall: Opportunities and Challenges for Small Towns.”  This session was led by elected officials of three rural area towns in New Jersey.  The towns mentioned they do not receive help from their local health departments with regards to walkability in their town.  They are on their own as council people to make a difference. The city councilpersons shared a variety of awareness and activity based initiatives they are implementing in their town, as well as major built environment enhancements they have for their towns (from sidewalks to extending greenways and utilizing a ferry to cross the river that has access to over 25 greenway trails.)

Another session I attended was titled “Walking and Walkability in Rural Communities.” Some highlights from this session highlighted a variety of multi-modal lane configurations that rural communities could consider to allow for pedestrian, bicycle, and motor vehicle traffic.  We also learned about a rural community that after many years of educating themselves, adopted a complete streets policy.  The audience also learned about connecting their work in rural communities with the physically disabled population.  An organization called APRIL-Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living is dispersed across the United States to represent those with physical disabilities and to make sure built environment and ADA compliance work is truly compliant.  And lastly we heard from the National Physical Activity Society on a wide variety of built environment work they have helped to document in many small and rural towns across the United States.

These two sessions provided a lot or real world examples that could be implemented in small and rural towns, much like we have across the State of Tennessee.  Overall, attending the National Walking Summit was a tremendous benefit for me and provided me a lot of insight to walkability in small town America.

 

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This is #1 in a series of essays about attending the 2017 National Walking Summit.

About Pam Eidson

Pam Eidson is executive director of the National Physical Activity Society.

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