Presiding over the least walkable and second fattest ranked city in the nation was a bristling experience for Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett seven years ago. But he couldn’t deny the charges since he’d gained enough extra pounds while in office to be labeled obese himself, thanks to endless rounds of breakfast and lunch meetings.
In Phoenix last week to address more than 250 business and civic leaders attending Arizona Forward’s Stewardship Summit on Building Healthy Communities, Cornett shared Oklahoma City’s turnaround story. Arizona communities, and indeed cities across the nation, should take a page out of this book.
Oklahoma City was the perfect place to live if you were a car, quipped the four-term mayor, who is the second longest-serving mayor among the 50 largest cities in America. Like many U.S. cities, his native home was designed around the automobile. Schools, shopping centers and other destination points were designed for people to drive to and were void of sidewalks. More than 15,000 miles of roads were already in place, so Cornett launched a public awareness campaign to focus on the problem. He stood in front of an elephant and declared his city on a diet.
By 2012, Oklahoma City residents lost a collective one million pounds with 47,000 people signing up and losing an average of 20 pounds each. Five years after being ranked the nation’s fattest city by “Men’s Health”magazine, the same publication listed Oklahoma City as one of the 25 fittest in the country.
The bigger story here, however, is the massive healthy infrastructure implemented in Oklahoma City. The city is now building a 70-acre park, a street car system, hundreds of miles of sidewalks and is literally forcing a pedestrian-friendly, walkable solution into its grid.
Phoenix, are you listening? We tout a new Complete Streets plan in Arizona’s largest municipality. Now we need to implement! While funding seems to always come up as an obstacle for progress in our local communities, it should be noted that neither the city sales tax nor property tax rates increased in Oklahoma City despite millions of dollars of infrastructure improvements.
Mayor Cornett led the charge to successfully pass MAPS 3, a capital improvements program that uses a 1-cent, limited-term sales tax to pay for debt-free projects designed to improve the quality of life for residents. The construction phase of MAPS 3 is well under way, with the final project expected to be finished in 2021.
Some of the strategies for redesigning Oklahoma City for people, instead of cars, are relevant to many metropolitan communities, including those in the Valley of the Sun and throughout the Grand Canyon State. They include:
- Narrower car lanes and wider, landscaped sidewalks
- Enhanced pedestrian crossings
- Street connectivity with urban parks
- Parking garages with street interaction and landscaped sidewalks
- Hundreds of miles of bike trails
- A 70-acre urban park
- A modern streetcar or light rail transit system
- Canal enhancements
- Senior wellness centers
10. A U.S. Olympic training site
There are many points of pride across Arizona cities and towns that shouldn’t go unmentioned. The Phoenix City Council just weeks ago adopted an aggressive, long-term climate change strategy to make Phoenix zero-waste and completely carbon neutral.
And just last year “Money Magazine” ranked Tucson one of the five best cities for millennials, along with Seattle and Austin. Texas. Arizona’s second largest municipality is a leader in attracting young singles and families, a key element of healthy, sustainable cities.
Another of Arizona’s shining stars, according to the 2014 Gallup-Health-Ways Well-Being index, is Prescott. It ranked 8th among the nation’s top small healthy communities.
Vitalyst Health Foundation has declared 2017 the year of healthy communities in Arizona. They have engaged more than 50 organizations throughout the state to collaborate on this initiative, which holds significant promise for all of us!
Surprisingly, studies reveal that 80 percent of how long we live is based on how we live – our lifestyles, habits and culture – while only 20 percent is based on genetics or our access to basic health care. Let’s advocate for community design that enhances our health and well-being.
Diane Brossart is president & CEO of Arizona Forward.