Walk It Out
Finding ways to build healthy communities.
By Jennifer Smith
Walking down the streets of Kaunakakai the casual observer may see a young mom with her two kids in tow being waved across the street by a driver, a couple of kupuna talking story on the bench in front of Pascua’s, and members of a local non-profit selling raffle tickets in front of Friendly Market. While to Molokai residents this is just another day on the Friendly Isle, to nationally known walking enthusiast Mark Fenton, these are signs of a healthy community.
Fenton, an expert in walkable, bicycle-friendly community policies visited Molokai with representatives from the Healthy Hawaii Initiative (HHI) and the Maui County Physical Activity and Nutrition Coalition (MCPANC) to talk story with residents about existing healthy community areas, and ways to support greater physical activity on the island.
“We know what the healthy community template looks like,” Fenton said, during last Thursday’s workshop held in the Queen Liliuokalani Children's Center. He said areas that provide open, public spaces for people to run their everyday errands can contribute greatly in preventing most of the state’s rising health concerns.
“Environmental factors have a strong influence on healthy behaviors,” Director of Health Chiyome Fukino, M.D., stated in a press release. “The design of our communities holds potential for addressing many of Hawaii’s public health concerns, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, asthma, injury, and depression.”
Fenton refers to the majority of society’s health problems as an “inactivity health epidemic.” He said the key to combating this epidemic is to change people’s mindsets from thinking of physical activity as exercise, and instead incorporating it into their everyday lives.
“Leave the car behind once a week,” encourage people to walk or bicycle, Fenton said. “Bicycles are a huge underutilized resource,” especially because of the climate and short distances on the island.
The basic idea behind creating healthier communities lies in creating central locations, where people can walk or bike, and making these spaces safe and inviting. In such scenarios proper site design is key, and should include trees, benches, and bicycle parking.
“A good design for a healthy community extends throughout lifestyles,” Fenton said, explaining that successful healthy communities are utilizing three key contributing factors; programs, projects, and policies. Programs would include bicycle safety courses or media campaigns to raise awareness, projects could entail painting bicycle lanes or slowing street speeds, and policy could mean anything from requiring bicycle safety courses in physical education classes, to increasing parking fees so as to discourage vehicle use.
Healthy communities also support models of sustainability lowering dependence on water resources, reducing carbon emissions, and diminishing transportation congestion and costs.
HHI has also met with communities on Maui and Lanai. On Friday they presented their compiled research and suggestions from the workshops to government officials, including Lieutenant Governor Duke Aiona, during a breakfast at the Maui Tropical Plantation.
“We are trying to get dialogue going,” said Nalani Aki, a community programs coordinator for HHI.
With Maui County’s 2030 General Plan currently in the works, MCPANC thinks this is a perfect time to initiate discussions on how communities can foster healthy lifestyles for residents.
“We are trying to get people to make these connections,” Fenton said, explaining that residents can voice their opinion on how and where developments happen. Instead of creating a mini mall on the outskirts of the island, perhaps you create small shops in walking distance of the town center.
“There are a lot of excited, enthusiastic people throughout the county who want to begin working on this,” said Sandra Leigh McGuinness, Maui County coordinator for MCPANC. “The momentum that has built in the community is unbelievable.”
McGuinness took on her position with MCPANC in February and said that the Coalition is still in the beginning stages. After developing a Board of Directors, the Coalition will work on creating system and environmental changes from the policy level to improve Maui County residents’ quality of life.
“I think it is going to culminate in some exciting work,” McGuinness said, adding that there are great programs out there already that people may not know about.
For more information on developments with HHI visit www.healthyhawaii.com.