Roseburg News-Review: Roseburg's Health Depends On Better Walkability

Roseburg News-Review
Wed, 06/27/2012 (All day)

After a visit from UCLA public health expert Dr. Richard Jackson last week, which was co-sponsored by 1000 Friends, the local paper has issued a strong editorial calling on local leaders to continue efforts to make Roseburg healthier by making it more walkable, and calling on residents to make healthy choices.

The News-Review editorial writes: 

Doctors tend to deliver a straightforward message as they diagnose and prescribe. It came as a bit of surprise, then, to hear that a visiting physician was inspired to offer a sparkling metaphor for Roseburg's bicycle trail.

Calling it a treasure, Dr. Richard Jackson added that city representatives should consider the trail along the South Umpqua River “the diamond which you should build a filigree necklace around.”

Jackson's words were not only flattering, but encouraging. The pediatrician and chairman of environmental sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles is the host of the Public Broadcasting Service series “Designing Healthy Communities.” It was in the latter role that he was in town last week to explain how municipalities can make their residents healthier.

It's a timely message for Douglas County. In April, the county learned it sank lower for yet another year in an overall health ranking of Oregon counties.Too much alcohol, too many tobacco products and far too many pounds added up to push the county to 32nd place out of 33 evaluated for their populations' health. Inactivity was another factor contributing to our poor showing.

And inactivity is one of the evils Jackson is on a crusade to eradicate.

A longtime specialist in environmental health, Jackson is a firm advocate of city planning with an eye to disease prevention.

Before taking a walking tour of downtown Roseburg, Jackson spoke to about 80 people at the Douglas County Library, explaining how he believes American society has rigged its surroundings against its citizens' health.

Obesity, he said, can be attributed in part to our reliance on our cars. People need attractive public spaces to motivate them to get out and connect with each other. Cities that can promote walking and biking as part of daily living will have hardier and happier residents.

As he paced Roseburg sidewalks, Jackson had glowing words for the new Umpqua Business Center on Washington Avenue. In particular, he approved the decision to keep parking behind the building, not visible from the street.

The Laurelwood neighborhood and open spaces at Roseburg High School drew favorable comments as well. Shown an illustration of a downtown plaza proposed for the former Rite Aid buildings, Jackson said such a structure would be a boost to “the heart of the city.”

Jackson also had ideas for improvement. He urged construction of new bike lanes to solve a safety problem for riders along the Washington Avenue bridge. He advised opening the parking garage ground floor to small retail shops.

Jackson's visit helped identify the city's gems as well as the pebbles in its shoe. Now it's up to all of us to find ways to implement those and other ideas for getting us out and about, in pursuit of exercise as well as social interaction.

Government has a role to play, but it's not all up to bureaucrats. Banning the sale of extra-size sodas, as has been floated in New York, isn't the answer here. Everybody needs to take responsibility for putting down the nachos and lacing up the walking shoes.

Our lives depend on it.

Read the full editorial here. (Subscription may be required.)

1000 Friends believes that smart land use and providing good transportation choices is a central part to helping Oregonians get and stay healthy. Learn more about the role of land use in your community at friends.org/LandUseIs.