April 22, 2004

Landscape designers promote active lifestyles

  • Communities can be designed to encourage walking, biking and jogging.
    Talley & Kolb


    Gov. Gary Locke recently signed a proclamation establishing April 2004 as National Landscape Architecture Month in Washington state in honor of the legacy of landscape architects and in hope for the bright future of their profession.

    A similar proclamation establishing Landscape Architecture Week in Seattle was signed in April 2003 by Peter Steinbrueck, former president of the Seattle City Council.

    Washington landscape architects, represented by the Washington Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects (WASLA), are commemorating Landscape Architecture Month by calling attention to a public policy issue and an environmental opportunity of nationwide significance: active living for a healthy society.

    Statistics gathered in the last two or more years have proven that a strong correlation exists between physical health and active outdoor recreation, including bicycling, walking and jogging. Such a link was always assumed by landscape architects but the new evidence, gathered by the state Department of Health and other agencies, lends much stronger credence to urban designers seeking to promote active living through the design of new communities and improvements to existing settlements.

    Alarming news bulletins about the growing percentage of obesity in America, with over 50 percent of the population considered obese, has thrown a spotlight on the critical need to make our communities more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly.

    Children are especially at risk, with ever more children being driven to school, most often in low gas-mileage minivans and SUVs. When I consulted on a playground renovation project at a West Seattle elementary school last year, I was disturbed to discover that children living only half a block or a block from the school were often driven by their parents, for fear of kidnappings and traffic accidents.

    A growing number of citizens and environmental groups have become concerned about this public health issue and are strongly advocating for pedestrian-friendly communities that emphasize active living.

    Prominent among these groups is the Washington Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity, which is partially funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

    Headed by Executive Director Tom Wells, the WCPPA's mission is to: Promote increased awareness and knowledge about physical activity and the benefits of an active lifestyle; develop and promote model policies, laws and regulations supporting physical activity; establish and maintain a physical environment supporting physical activity; and share research/data of effective interventions working with a wide range of community organizations, including schools, universities, physician's offices, work sites, professional organizations and government agencies.

    On April 21, the WCPPA hosted an “Active Living Leadership” dinner meeting, held at REI's corporate headquarters in Kent. Attended by State Senator Rosa Franklin and former Seattle Mayor Charles Royer, as well as leaders of 50 statewide organizations including WASLA, the meeting kicked off a public policy debate around the question, “What are the three top priorities in providing a mix of land uses, transportation options and recreational opportunities that create healthy communities?”

    Active living has long been a top priority of the American Society of Landscape Architects. At ASLA's annual Lobby Day event held every May in Washington, D.C., landscape architects from all 50 states visit their congressional delegations to promote ASLA's top three legislative priorities in Congress.

    Two of these legislative priorities have the explicit goal of promoting active living: Renewal of the Transportation Equity Act of the 21st Century (currently dubbed TEA-21) and of the Urban Parks and Recreation Recovery Program. TEA-21 will tie funding of bikeways, pedestrian routes and recreation trails to highway improvement funding. The recovery program establishes funds to rehabilitate and renovate existing recreation areas and parks in poor, inner-city neighborhoods across the U.S.

    The Washington Chapter ASLA has also been actively involved in this cause. As part of our on-going and official partnership with the National Park Service's Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program, we co-led a charrette last October in Moses Lake to create a city-wide master plan for a new, interconnected system of bicycle trails, linear parks and recreation areas. The charrette was enthusiastically received by community leaders and provides a blueprint for future active living initiatives.

    Washington landscape architects are proud of the many accomplishments we have achieved in the goal of making our communities more conducive to active living. There is much more to be done and we expect that Landscape Architecture Month will continue to call attention to this important public health issue in coming years.

    Brooks Kolb is past-president of the Washington Chapter American Society of Landscape Architects. Don Benson, WASLA Visibility Committee chair, contributed to this story.

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