June 2014, Volume 18, Number 2


Fit by Design

Scores of simple solutions to rising health care and urban planning problems were revealed when more than 200 architects, public health professionals, city planners, developers and academics met at Miami Dade College’s Wolfson Campus for the first annual Fit City Miami conference. The day-long event explored how thoughtful yet inexpensive design principles can be used in buildings and city planning to increase physical activity, improve the environment and boost access to healthier foods.

Opening the conference, the keynote address focused on how the transformation of urban landscapes in the past century has contributed to declining national health as people spend more time indoors, at desks, on sofas and in cars than they do burning calories.

A Powerful Education Partnership

Moving beyond somber historical facts and uplifting practical solutions, Fit City Miami served a vital academic function by enabling participants to earn MDC Continuing Education credits through the collaborative efforts of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Miami Chapter, the Gold Coast Chapter of the American Planning Association, the Consortium for a Healthy Miami-Dade, the Southeast Florida District Council Urban Land Institute and Miami Dade College’s Earth Ethics Institute (EEI).

Diverse roundtables covered the gamut of health and urban planning issues. Tips for getting municipalities on board were discussed in a panel led by Good Government Initiative CEO Katy Sorenson, who formerly served on the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners. A group moderated by architect Bernard Zyscovich looked at enhancing building design to keep people moving. A prime example of success is MDC’s Building 8 at Wolfson Campus by Zyscovich Architects, which meets new standards that encourage more activity by incorporating features such as making stairways inviting and having elevators serve as a side element of the design. 

Wrapping up the day, Vizcaya Museum Executive Director Joel Hoffman led a discussion on ways that cultural and academic institutions, which have always focused on intellectual well-being, can now help ensure that our bodies are as healthy as our minds.

Simplifying City Life

Ending on an inspiring note, EEI Executive Director Colleen Ahern-Hettich offered dozens of examples of small steps that already are having a big impact.

“I remember when the mayor of Curitiba, which is one of Brazil’s greenest cities, came to speak at MDC in 2006,” she said. “He told us, ’All we need is inexpensive acupuncture interventions for the Earth. You have a lot of complexity sellers out there,’ he said, ’but you just need to start with a sliver of simple, commonplace ways to fix things.’”

Not stopping at a sliver, MDC’s Fit City Miami offered a wide variety of innovative solutions. Now, the key is for Miami to implement these great ideas more frequently and routinely.  

The Beauty of a Bit of Paint

What if all it took to improve traffic safety and public health were cleverly placed splashes of paint? 

It really can be that easy, explained Fit City Miami keynote speaker Dr. Karen Lee, an expert in the growing field of Healthy Built Environments who works in New York City and teaches in the Schools of Public Health at the University of Toronto and the University of Alberta.

With before-and-after images, Lee gave examples of low-cost ways some of the world’s largest cities have made major improvements in public health and the environmental health of public spaces. Learning from ingenious work in Copenhagen, Denmark, New York City used paint to relocate bike lanes between parking spots and sidewalks – rather than having them in their traditional location alongside moving traffic. In this configuration, parked cars now serve as a blockade to ensure the safety of cyclists. 

For cities concerned about the costs of implementing healthy changes, street painting can create pedestrian plazas quickly and inexpensively. Times Square in New York City did this to increase pedestrian movement, decrease traffic congestion and reduce air pollution. Best of all for businesses, the small dose of paint transformed the area into one of the top 10 retail hot spots in the world.

— BK

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