Oh Sidewalk, Sidewalk, Wherefore Art Thou Sidewalk? (AKA The Built Environment)

Last week I walked downtown and almost got pancaked by a car.

So naturally, after I made sure I was still three-dimensional, my mind wandered to my built environment.

See? Who says my blog isn’t exciting?

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art

Original image from Microsoft Clip Art

 

Built Environment

The built environment refers to the infrastructure of a community, including its buildings, parks, neighborhoods, retail development, and residential areas.

In public health, the definition expands to include a community’s access to healthy food, safe neighborhoods, and its walkability and bikeability—basically anything that promotes health. As such, tackling a city’s built environment is another tool in the fight against obesity.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Original image from Wikimedia Commons

Oftentimes low-income communities get hit the hardest. Access to grocery stores and recreational areas is limited (a concept I mention in my upcoming novel).

But those who live in suburbs pay a price too. Thanks to urban sprawl and the tendency to separate retail areas from residential ones, not to mention America’s love affair with the no-outlet cul-de-sac, suburban dwellers are forced to rely on their cars.

For example, take me and my near-pancake experience. In order to walk downtown and enjoy my local businesses, I must either go sans sidewalk or navigate a maze, one that requires crossing an underpass and walking side by side with moving vehicles.

So, if I go the front way, it looks something like this:

Original image from Wikimedia Commons

Original image from Wikimedia Commons

If I go the back way, it’s more like this:

Original image from Wikimedia Commons. Except for the legs. I don't know whose those are.

Original image from Wikimedia Commons. Except for the legs. I don’t know whose those are.

Though I’m fortunate my town’s center is only a mile away, I can’t get there on continuous sidewalk.

And that’s just not safe.

But I can make due. After all, I wear ugly, sensible footwear. But for those who are unable to walk through weedy yards and uneven terrain, or don’t want to risk their life in a perilous underpass, they have to rely on their cars and lose out on the health benefits of walking, not to mention breathing fresh air.

So I’m hoping one day to eventually see sidewalk. One that gets me from point A to point B without a twisted ankle or a flattened torso.

Wouldn’t that be swell?

What’s the built environment like in your community?

Related Articles:

Impact of the Built Environment on Health

CDC’s Built Environment and Health Initiative

American Public Health Association Built Environment

America’s Top 20 Healthiest Cities

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Rubin4Carrie Rubin is the author of The Seneca Scourge and the upcoming Eating Bull. For full bio, click here.

316 Responses to “Oh Sidewalk, Sidewalk, Wherefore Art Thou Sidewalk? (AKA The Built Environment)”

  1. Lidy

    Mine is like yours but not as bad. At least there’s public transportation but the bus schedule times are few in between. And there’s development and they’re finally building sidewalks, so that now I can walk to the library. Never liked to, would rely on a cab, because I don’t want to end up pancaked. The drivers down here are crazy, don’t know how to drive. Still would love it if the county added more bus routes and increase the number of times the bus comes. But more and more, I’m forced to acknowledge that I’ll have to learn to drive and rely on a car to get around, but then I’m afraid of being one of those horrible drivers.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Public transportation is a nice option for when walking isn’t an possible. Unfortunately the suburbs don’t tend to have that either. A car often becomes the only resource. But being able to walk to the library sounds nice! I’m able to do that as well, even though I have to go through the underpass to do it. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Aquileana

    You propose a very interesting micro- geographical interpretation here… I’d say that the locations are related with the economic status as well… Eating well is an option, but sometimes you don’t have that choice…. But if you want to you need to be wealthy somehow… At least, I doubt you can be a vegan and replace proteins by seeds and all that stuff if you don’t have oncomes to do so… Soy could be expensive, nevertheless flour isn’t, eh?…
    By the way, the photomontages are great!… All my best wishes, dear Carrie! Aquileana 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you. And thank you for the Twitter share too!

      Yes, it’s still cheaper to eat unhealthily than it is to eat healthy. If I go to an event that sells snacks, a fruit cup always costs more than French fries or something else unhealthy. Hopefully in the future this will change.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Luanne

    I’m so relieved that you’re still 3 dimensional!! How do you do those memes? Is it Photoshop? Very clever!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Jennifer J. Chow

    Yikes! Glad you’re okay. Thankfully, I can get to places, but it’s still a major road that I need to walk by or across. (But of course, it’s L.A., so who really walks around here?)

    Like

  5. Matt

    My walk from the bus stop to my office is treacherous in the winter. Living in Ottawa, Canada, the the absence of sidewalk is made even worse by the mounds of snow that push me further and further into the street as cars rush by on the slippery road. This post is fantastic.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you. Sounds like you have it even more treacherous than me. People are told to walk more, and yet the environment is rarely conducive to it, save for the inner parts of a big city. There you can walk anywhere, which is one of the reasons I love visiting them. San Francisco is one of my favorite cities for walking.

      Like

  6. L. Marie

    I’m glad you’re okay.
    I live in a suburb, so I totally get this. Some areas don’t have sidewalks. It’s horrible! I see brave pedestrians creeping along the curbs. And winter makes things worse with snow and ice.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Yes, unfortunately, so many of these places were designed without pedestrians in mind. Now that city councils know better, you’d think they’d put sidewalks in for us. But it looks like I’ll be waiting a long, long time for that. Sigh.

      Like

  7. Curmudgeon-at-Large

    In suburbia, where many of us live, it is interesting to see a new development – with a local zoning requirement – building a sidewalk from nowhere to nowhere. In between developments, you magically transport yourself until the space gets filled in. By that time, the only space getting filled in is the six feet of dirt on top of you.

    Like

  8. Shel Harrington

    Um, I think I’m going to have to explain the term to community leaders. Better yet, I’ll just forward your post – the visual are inspiring! 🙂

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Ha, yes, a picture tells a thousand words. Of course, I may have photographically exaggerated a bit. 😉

      Nice to see you. Hope things are going well for you and you’re having a nice summer!

      Like

  9. Honie Briggs

    People ride bicycles on the streets against oncoming traffic where I live. Kids and adults alike, wearing no helmet and with nothing more than a painted white line between them and the NASCAR qualifiers on Texas roadways, can be seen all over the place exercising their “freedom.” Many of our neighborhoods do have sidewalks that extend to commercial areas, but it isn’t convenient to walk to stores and other businesses. For one thing, it’s too hot to do much walking here. Another thing is, well, how would one pretend to be qualifying for NASCAR on foot?

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Yeah, wild drivers can definitely put the kibosh on walking. And I cringe whenever I see people biking without a helmet. I’ve seen the consequences of that in terms of serious head injury. Very sad.

      Like

  10. Joanna Aislinn

    Although I’m in a ‘burb (or so the weather guy/girl says), I’m not lacking for sidewalks. Interesting perspective. Never occurred to me that other areas lack them. Must be that much harder to walk or bike with little ones, push a stroller, etc.

    Like

  11. Celine Jeanjean

    I have to admit the need to drive everywhere was one of the things I liked the least about the US from my very brief and very limited experience of the country. I mean I understand where it comes from – there’s so much space, things sprawl out, roads are massive, etc. But still, there’s nothing I like more than walking around my neighbourhood, even out here in HK.

    I can totally see how the reliance on driving can also have a detrimental effect on health. Both the lack of access to local, healthy produce, and the lack of exercise that comes from driving everywhere.

    I read a really interesting book recently by the way, which I’m sure you’ll have heard of: Why We Get Fat And What To Do About It by Gary Taubes. I’m curious to know what you think of it as a health professional?

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      I haven’t heard of that book. Thanks so much for the heads up about it. I’ll definitely check it out. And yes, being able to walk everywhere is wonderful. I love visiting big cities for that very reason.

      Like

      • Celine Jeanjean

        Oh, then let me know what you think whenever you read it. I thought it was fascinating as it’s a round up of studies and research done over the 20th century about obesity, and it also looks at why certain models (like the calorie in calorie out model) became popular (and why they don’t work). I’d be curious to know if you agreed with his conclusions!

        Like

        • Carrie Rubin

          I definitely agree it’s not as simple as calorie in-calorie out. In fact, that’s the theme of my upcoming book. But making carbs alone the culprit (I Googled the book) also shortchanges us. So many other things play into the equation than diet alone–our social structures, our environment (including the built environment), our policies. Obesity is a complex issue that requires complex interventions at all levels to tackle adequately. Such is the public health mantra. (Can you tell I did research in the are? 😉 ) But I bookmarked the Amazon page for that book you mentioned. I’d like to get it from the library and look through it. Thanks again!

          I recently read a fascinating book (well, I found it fascinating…) called ‘The Evolution of Obesity.’ Covers the biologic reasoning behind obesity, or essentially what it is about our biology that has allowed weight to become a problem so quickly. Very interesting read.

          Like

          • Celine Jeanjean

            Oh that sounds interesting too. I’ll have to check it out. Knowing as little about the human body as I do, I find reading about it so interesting.
            I think the Gary Taubes book only looks at obesity from a biological point of view – but what you say makes complete sense. It almost seems like obesity is a symptom reflecting a number of things gone wrong with western society.

            Like

  12. cindy knoke

    You should move to The Holler. It is made in the shade for introverts. Shel didn’t know The Holler is where the sidewalks really end. There are no people to walk on them. If you want to walk, you go through pastures with the only thing to watch for being cranky bulls (big cranky bulls), occasional rattlesnakes, black widows and scorpions. I wear snake boots so the only thing I have to watch for is the bulls.
    No bull. You would probably love it here. It is paradise for introverts and animals. Besides animals are smart and they prefer introverts!
    I get vaguely unsettled now when I must “go to civilization.” Parking lots, target, traffic, crowds, eeeeeewwwwww. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carrie Rubin

      You had me at everything but the snakes. I could even handle the spiders. The scorpions? Well, I might be able to turn a blind eye. But a snake? I shudder thinking of it! Even though the idea of a haven for introverts is intriguing… 😉

      Like

  13. Gail Kaufman

    Something else we have in common, Carrie. I am 3 miles from a lovely walk-friendly town, but the hazards of getting there are not worth it. So when I walk, my route is limited to the perimeter of the nearby farms. Even that is risky with no sidewalks, but not as bad as the windy, hilly road to town with blind spots around every bend. When I visit family in Queens, NY, I bring my sneakers and cherish every minute on those sidewalks.

    Like

  14. La La

    Please no getting flattened! We have sidewalk as far as the eyes can see, yet I live in the part of town where the most pedestrians are hit because they cross the road like they all have 9 lives…and also statistically where some of the worst drivers in the US are known to be. I do a lot of yelling.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      That sounds treacherous. I’m always surprised by the number of people who cross the street staring at their phones. Or those who don’t wait for the light to change. We saw a lot of that in New York. Saw several people almost get clipped. Crazy.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Psychobabble

    Ug, this is actually something I’m really struggling with in my new town. It has no downtown and isn’t set up for walking and window shopping and people gathering in public places. It’s just one shopping center after another – a series of parking lots. It sucks. There’s no downtown grid, not even two blocks worth. It’s amazing how much the lack of social public space negatively affects my psyche.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      I hear you. It can definitely bring one down. The suburban designs of the past few decades are terrible for pedestrians. It’s no mystery why they play a role in our country’s weight problem. Luckily, more and more communities are recognizing it, and some towns are top notch, allowing people to walk and bike most anywhere. I know Portland is supposed to be wonderful for this. Let’s hope it continues to improve everywhere.

      Like

  16. Exile on Pain Street

    The good news is that new communities are building sensible public spaces. The error of sprawl is being heeded.

    NYC = sidewalk capital of the plant. No green, though. None.

    200+ comments in a day! Wow! Totally deserved. Wish had a turnout like that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carrie Rubin

      New York is fabulous for walking, at least in the area we stayed. We didn’t need to catch a cab other than to go to and from the airport. There was plenty for us to do within walking distance of our hotel. Loved it.

      As for the comments, I guess I just visit a lot of blogs. But it’s where I put the bulk of my social media time. I do little with Facebook, and Twitter doesn’t take up much time. It’s all part of author marketing, but I love the blog world so it’s a pleasurable part of the branding process.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Andra Watkins

    In Charleston, there are some sidewalks downtown, but they’re not continuous. I can’t get from my house to wherever I want to go without walking on private property or running in the street. Bike lanes and facilities are even more scarce. I’m glad you survived the close call.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Sounds similar to my setting. On the one hand, I have plenty of things near me (a mile away), but I have to work (and risk life and limb) to get there.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

  18. Inion N. Mathair

    We’re in a similar boat here in the Smokey Mountains, Carrie. There’s no easily accessible stores or recreational areas… unless you want to hike in the woods or trek along the one and only main highway. Granted the view is always spectacular and we’re surrounded by nature 24/7, but it’d be nice to have a Target, Publix… God, even a Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks. We rarely go grocery shopping and when we finally venture out, we stock up for the month. lol

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Catch-22, no doubt. Gorgeous scenery but not practical if you want to venture out to eat or shop via foot. But at least you can hike and get exercise that way. But hopefully you don’t have to drive to reach the path entrance. I always find it ironic when we have to drive somewhere in order to bike or walk.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Jay

    I miss my old place, an apartment right downtown where I could and did walk everywhere. Now, I live in the burbs and I walk nowhere. Literally. If I go for a walk, it’s in a large circle, sometimes a large square, with no other destination than right back to where I started! I walk a lot because I have 4 dogs, but I don’t do errands. Our grocery store is not that far, but there are no sidewalks along a very busy and fast moving road, so t hough I do use that occasionally, even just to get to another spot that’s safer for a more extended walk, I certainly wouldn’t risk it ladden down with bags.
    I have to say, I do like my quiet neighbourhood for biking. I will never bike in traffic so I like having quieter streets where I feel safe.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Sounds about like my walking experience. Though I can walk more than just a wide circle, I always have to take the same route thanks to the number of cul-de-sacs and dead-end streets. Ah, such is suburbia. Thanks for weighing in.

      Like

  20. Melanie

    I have to drive to get anywhere from my current apartment. There are no sidewalks on the street leading to where everything is, and it’s very narrow, and people drive 50mph in a 30mph zone. I’ll be moving soon though, and WalkScore dot com has become my go-to since I’m doing my housing search completely online (I’m moving to a new city with no time to go there to do my looking before I move).

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      I’ve never heard of Walk Score. Just Googled it. What a great site. Thanks for letting me know about it. Good luck with the move. Hope it all goes well and turns out as you’d hoped!

      Liked by 1 person

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