Building healthy communities
Ah, summertime! Many people take some time out of their summer to relax, travel and experience new places. Often, this is the beach or a city, or town that one can stroll around, soak in the atmosphere, eat an ice cream cone, shop and people watch.
Coincidentally, these activities are experienced not in a car, but on foot or even on a bike. Sidewalks line these pleasant village streets, enabling one to experience the place in a way that driving through in a vehicle would not. These places feel alive, vibrant, maybe even healthy.
The experience is not only different for the visitor, but for the businesses as well. How often has window shopping turned into a vacation purchase? How often have you chosen a spot for a meal, or just a snack of pastry and coffee just because you were walking by? The economic benefits of having a pedestrian-scaled and pedestrian-accommodating town can be significant for the businesses and town itself.
It’s unlikely that these pleasant venues (and their accompanying economic benefits) happened by accident. On the contrary, they are the result of local input and careful planning.
Do you have the same opportunities in your home town? If not, you should. Then you and visitors can enjoy the experience of running an errand, discovering a new place or just people watching while eating that ice cream cone. Why do we want to go on vacation to such places and not expect it for our home town?
Complete Streets, legislation enacted by Vermont in 2011, requires that planning, design, construction and maintenance of our roadway network consider all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists and transit riders. Context and current or potential travel patterns need to be considered in determining the appropriate way to meet the needs of all modes of transportation. Not every street or road will be used by a wide variety of modes, but looking at the network of roadways in a town through the lens of Complete Streets encourages the consideration of all.
Designing places where being active is easier encourages public health. Our civic and town officials, along with engineers designing our environment need to address travel by seniors, children and everyone in between. Choices in how we travel and recreate expand our opportunities as well as an environment that supports healthy, active modes of transportation, where people can live a happier, healthier life.
The Rutland Regional Planning Commission will be working with some select towns in an effort to build healthier communities. We can assist in developing a Complete Streets plan so that, when road projects are planned, it is clear how multiple modes can be accommodated. Town plans and zoning can also facilitate more livable communities.
More compact, mixed-use neighborhoods are attractive places to work, live and play. Vibrant and active communities have the vision to reap the benefits — people want to live there, so housing is in demand; people want to visit, so restaurants and shops and recreational facilities thrive; and public health — and the health of our cities and towns — can only improve.
Susan Schreibman is assistant director of the Rutland Regional Planning Commission. She is the commission’s senior transportation planner and serves as staff member on the Rutland Region Transportation Council. Also, she serves on the Rutland City Planning Commission.