Some healthy plans that really pop
January 4, 2012
The new year is off and running in Los Angeles County—not to mention bicycling, walking and watching what it eats.
January, the traditional kickoff month for diets and self-improvement regimes of every kind, promises to bring some healthy developments of the public policy variety to Los Angeles County.
On January 11, the Regional Planning Commission is scheduled to vote on the county’s first updated bicycle master plan in more than three and a half decades. The plan is expected to expand the county’s network of bikeways and, by unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors, also to include cutting-edge design proposals for making cycling safer and more enjoyable throughout the region.
Then, on January 24, the Board of Supervisors will take up a proposed Healthy Design Ordinance, aimed at turning car-centric, fast-food-eating Southern California into a more walkable, bikeable and garden-filled place.
Meanwhile at the Department of Public Health, this year’s anti-smoking and anti-obesity efforts will be rolled into the county’s new Choose Health L.A. campaign. Funded for the past two years by federal stimulus grants and now by health care reform funds, those projects have sought to improve health, not by targeting specific diseases, but by teaming up with cities, community groups and school districts to get at the root causes of chronic ailments such as heart disease and diabetes.
Last year’s successes included a wave of local smoking bans in cities throughout L.A. County and a provocative ad campaign underscoring the sugar content in soft drinks. The federal grant money has also helped lay the groundwork for the master bike plan and the Healthy Design Ordinance.
Next up: food stamps at farmers’ markets, a grassroots push for smoke-free apartment complexes, teamwork with city attorneys to enforce laws against cigarette sales to minors, and work with hospitals to make it easier for new mothers to breastfeed.
Paul Simon, who heads the Department of Public Health’s Division of Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention, says the initiatives are the fruit of an ongoing effort to create an infrastructure of good health in Greater Los Angeles.
“In many of our communities, people want to make healthier choices but have a hard time doing it,” says Simon. “Especially in lower income districts where people want to be physically active, but can’t bike or jog or go out without worrying about violence. Or where the landscape is dominated by these packaged food products jammed with calories. If you set out to design a community to get really high rates of obesity, the community you’d design wouldn’t be far from the communities we’re living in now.”
The Healthy Design Ordinance would mandate wider sidewalks and shadier landscaping in the county, increase bike parking, simplify permitting for community gardens and farmers’ markets and require thru-ways in dead-end cul-de-sacs so that pedestrians and bicyclists can more easily get to shopping, recreation areas and schools.
Though it would only apply to new construction and major renovations in unincorporated areas, its effects, like those of the bike plan, are expected to influence surrounding cities—and to create a healthier landscape for years to come.