Mt Pleasant News
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Neighbors Growing Together | Dec 18, 2014

HCHC told 'human scale' is key element in planning and zoning

Mar 06, 2014

By MEGAN COOPER

Mt. Pleasant News

“The ‘human scale’ is how planning and zoning workers should be deciding how to build and where to build,” said Travis Kraus from Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission (SEIRPC) during the Healthy Henry County Communities (HHCC) meeting Tuesday.

The “human scale” is a planning term for how people feel in relation to the environment, dealing with size and scope, said Kraus.

“We need opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to be able to have daily exercise of at least 30 minutes,” Kraus explained. “When someone is looking to move into the area, they look for accessibility, safety and social interaction. We need to build livable communities. We need to think of individuals and their interaction with the environment.”

Kelly Carr, HHCC coordinator, asked Kraus, along with Zach James of SEIRPC, to share with the board how communities could be developed in order to be healthier and to encourage walkability and bikeability.

“Where did we go wrong?” Kraus asked the board. “From a planner’s perspective, it was suburbs. Suburbs don’t encourage walking and in some areas, you have to drive miles to get all the way around to the other side. The same can apply to small towns. Our communities were built to be car friendly, not pedestrian friendly,” Kraus said.

According to Kraus, there are ways to improve public health though through the built environment.

“A built environment is land use, buildings, parks, open space and trees. It’s the transportation network and the ‘human scale,’” explained Kraus. “Ways we can fix the problem are to create bicycle infrastructures, the ‘road diet,’ pedestrian infrastructures, ridded network and so much more. Did you know there is only one bike lane in a four county region? It’s in Middletown. Bike lanes make people feel more comfortable.”

James added, “The major problem is that yes there is a space issue, but if you think about it, if we build something with four lanes eventually that will fill up. We have created the problem by building the four lanes. We allowed it to happen.”

So, what exactly is HHCC trying to do with this discussion?

HHCC would like to see more bike trails in the community, would like to improve health opportunities and possibly make a change, for the better, Carr explained.

“There is so much already in place in Mt. Pleasant, but it will definitely take community involvement and persuasive arguments to make a change,” said Kraus. “I know some people aren’t excited about the three lanes with bike lanes, but it’s an option.”

“The city just has to be strong,” James added to the discussion. “Just like in Burlington, they went for it when they redid Mt. Pleasant Street, there were complaints at first but not anymore.”

As a whole, according to information presented by Kraus, Henry County ranks number 40 out of 99 counties for health. Some statistics are listed here:

• About one of three adult residents is obese.

• One out of four adults say they never exercise.

• Six percent are diabetic.

Kraus encourages HHCC to look at possibilities to make Henry County better. He suggested they look at:

• Sidewalk/trail networks.

• Bike infrastructures.

• New house developments.

• Access to basic services.

• Political leadership.

• Existing policies.

• Safe routes to school.

• Park locations.

• Signage.

• Gathering public input.

“There are many things that can be done, but the community will have to be involved,” said Kraus.

Brent Schleisman, city administrator, said, “We have a diverse group right here (referring to HHCC); we need to gather as a community and decide what do we want to do? Who do we want to be? How do we get there? We are trying to put together a trail, but we are limited by what we can do.”

HHCC will talk in future meetings on what can be done to make Henry County a healthier place and to possibly begin conversations to institute something new.

“City and county workers always seem to get the negative. They do such a great job on getting work done, just like the snow. They move it out of the way and aren’t thanked enough. I think we (HHCC) need to lead the way and to thank them for what they do. We need to be the voice for Mt. Pleasant and we need to do what we can to help take this to the next level,” said Main Street Director of Mt. Pleasant Chamber Alliance Lisa Oetken. “They just need to be thanked for what they do and what they are trying to do.”

Health Henry County Communities will meet again on Tuesday, April 1, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. in the Health Education Center at Henry County Health Center.

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