Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Blog Post No. 2012-5: Urban design roundup -- Reclaiming the Esplanade (and its broader implications) and Exploring the urban design-public health nexus

In yet another installment of our continuing series of commentaries on commentaries in the media ("They report it, we give it the once-over..."), your friends at RTUF offer the following:

1. Paul McMorrow in today's Boston Globe: A chance to reclaim the Esplanade. Taking the opportunity presented by the non-profit Esplanade Association's recent release of "Esplanade 2020" (their long-range planning proposal for reinvigorating the Boston shore of the Charles River Basin), McMorrow speaks emphatically to the need to roll back some of the more stunningly bad public infrastructure decisions of the last half century, especially the transmogrification of Storrow Drive from a simple park road into an interstate wanna-be and the blight that is the Bowker Overpass connecting Storrow to the Fenway, which casts a critical part of the Commonwealth Avenue mall and the mouth of the Muddy River into perpetual shadow. The piece is well worth a read. Bottom line: knowing what we know today, we have to seize every chance we are offered to reconstruct and renovate our infrastructure in a way that supoprts, instead of degrades, the urban fabric. Get out there, and get to it.

2. Jane Brody in the New York Times over the last three weeks, starting with: Communities learn the good life can be a killer. Wth her typical combination of seeing the problem broadly, researching it carefully, and then making it personal, Ms. Brody walks through the personal/public health aspects of some of the very issues we here at RTUF have been highlighting in this first installment, and then the subsequent pieces Making city streets safer and Advice from a 70 year-old cyclist. There is undeniably a link between how we organize, deign, and construct our built environment and public health. In a sense, automobile-oriented suburban development was a massive national experiment on the health effects of removing virtually every opportunity for incidential physical activity from our lives. And the results of the experiment are not promising, especially (though by no means exclusively) increased obesity rates and elevated risk factors for the suite of diseases  that come with it. Successfully and convincinlgy linking a public policy issue to public and personal health has proven to be a winning strategy on many issues. On this basis, the prospects for moving the needle even further in the urban design conversation seem to keep getting better. I haven't caught it yet, but the PBS documentary on "Designing Healthy Communities" looks like it'll be well worth watching. RTUF Note: In the interest of full disclosure, readers should be aware that I spent 11 years of my life living a few doors up the street from Ms. Brody, her husband Richard Enguist, and her twin boys Erik and Lorin, in Brooklyn.

3. RTUF Milestone Announcement: We surpassed 5,000 visitors earlier today. Many thanks to RTUF Nation for visiting from time to time and, even, when the mood hits you, commenting.

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