Kansans learning to make their communities healthier places to live

Topeka is hosting a two-day “Built Environment and the Outdoors Summit,” and I was given the opportunity to attend it along with about 200 others from across the state who care about health.

Here’s some food for thought:

The design of a community — where people live, work, learn and play — heavily influences their well-being. The built environment — whether it is conducive to walking and biking, provides plenty of opportunities to access fresh fruits and vegetables, has varied outdoor opportunities that include trail systems, and is safe — affects an individual’s ability to be active and eat healthy.

Many factors affect the built environment including policy, city planning, coalition work, zoning and citizen involvement.

The summit aims to help Kansans identify resources and address how to take action to promote physical activity for a healthy Kansas.

Thursday was Day 1.

First, I sat at a round table with others from the Lawrence community. Among those in the group were city planners, engineers, health department employees and a physical therapy business owner. We didn’t chose to sit together and ignore the folks from western Kansas; we were encouraged to sit together to begin networking.

We also were given the task to come up with a plan that we would like to see implemented in Lawrence. Then, we needed to figure out how to move forward with the plan. (Our idea will be presented at the end of the summit, but I am curious what you would like to see).

The keynote speaker was Mark Fenton, host of the PBS television series “America’s Walking” and a former member and coach of the U.S. national racewalking team. He is a transportation, planning and public health consultant. Fenton is a nationally-recognized expert on walking for well-being.

Fenton’s hourlong presentation covered the gamut. Among the topics: the health benefits of exercise, how to form a successful community coalition to get moving on health initiatives, how to implement pedestrian-friendly sidewalks, how to implement bicycle lanes, and the economic benefits of health initiatives. While these are broad topics, Fenton gave lots of examples and introduced the material in an interesting manner.

Fortunately for Lawrence, Fenton will be speaking on Tuesday, Oct. 6, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 N.H. Sara Snow, a green living expert, will join Fenton. The event is free and open to anyone.

During the summit, I also learned about two successful health programs in Kansas — Health & Wellness Coalition of Wichita, and Thrive Allen County. Dennis McKinney, state treasurer, talked about the rebuilding efforts in Greensburg.

I also learned about what goes into making a community bicycle-friendly. The presenters were Shoeb Uddin, city engineer in the City of Lawrence Public Works Department; Neil Holman, director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Shawnee; and Deb Ridgway, bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for the City of Kansas City, Mo.

Look for future stories and blogs on these topics.

Now, I am ready for Day 2.