Last week, I covered the Tennessee County Commissioners Association regional meeting at Henry Horton State Park. I've covered this particular gathering for many years -- Paul Parker was county executive when I first started going, if that gives you any idea -- but this year's gathering was unique.
The emphasis is usually on what the state is doing that might affect local county governments -- new rules or requirements, increases or decreases in funding or grant programs, that sort of thing.
This year, county commissioners were challenged to be a part of solving the problem of childhood obesity. The guest speaker was Rosalind Kurita, a former state senator now working in the state health department. She discussed various ways that local governments could get involved in the obesity problem: converting unused or underused space into exercise facilities, developing greenways and walking trails, and what have you.
One thing she mentioned was sidewalks.
As anyone who's seen me knows, I'm obese. I'm trying to walk more; I got a new pedometer at a recent American Cancer Society Relay For Life conference I attended, and I've been wearing it. When the weather is good and I'm home in time, I like walking through my neighborhood on the south side of town.
My normal route takes me down some residential streets and along a state highway, but there are few sidewalks. I have to walk on the pavement until I see a car coming, then step over onto someone's yard (I try to at least stay on the public right-of-way). It's not always easy, and it's not particularly safe.
Sidewalks are expensive, I understand. But they add so much to a community, and they encourage all of us -- children and adults alike -- to get out and walk more. They help develop a sense of neighborhood, of community. They encourage people to occasionally walk instead of driving, and that's good for any number of reasons.
Ms. Kurita said that Colorado is a relatively healthy state, and she attributed at least part of that success to aggressive promotion of sidewalks. If you're developing a subdivision in Colorado, you have to include sidewalks, period, or your plat won't be approved. According to the subdivision regulations I found online, Shelbyville requires sidewalks in new subdivisions, but Bedford County does not.
But of course, new subdivisions are less than half the story. We need more sidewalks along existing streets and in existing residential areas built before that became a part of the regulations.
Both city and county governments need to be more aggressive in seeking out grant funding or other creative ways to expand sidewalks in residential areas.
Yes, sidewalks are expensive, but obesity is even more expensive.
--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government.