How do you fight for something that you know is a community improvement, a way to promote health and academics, and make some of the busiest streets safer and more accessable to a great number of people? Cautiously!
After a lengthy discussion this past fall, Underwood voted to accept a Safe Routes to School grant. Now, we once again are holding a meeting to allow community members to provide input, hoping to show the city commission that sidewalks and this grant are for the greater good of the community. This includes health, wellness and safety far all! I feel that the citizens are fortunate that the city council is willing to listen to their concerns and desires. They could simply decide on the implementation plan all on their own. After all, they have agreed to the conditions of the grant with their vote this past fall.
What concerns me is the small amount of or narrow focused information that those in opposition hold. I believe that the truth lay in the attempt to preserve what has always been and a fear of not knowing what a change such as sidewalk addition will lead to that causes their frustration, anger, and disapproval.
So you may ask, What do I know about the sidewalk need? Well, I know that I keep my kids close to me and within clear eyesight when we walk or bike in town. When I lived in town, I appreciated being able to teach my oldest child to bike in a safe environment on the sidewalk infront of my house and teach him skills about safety and courtesy where he didn't run the risk of getting hit if he fell. As I drive through town, I see kids roaming on the streets and they don't stay off to the side. People drive faster than they should and drive distracted. Many walk or rollerblade with headphones and cannot hear cars or others.I see handicapped individuals wheeling or being pushed in the streets about 4-6 feet from the curb due to the slope of the streets. Simply put, sidewalks aid in minimizing risk.
I also know that Safe Routes to School grants are not only about elementary kids walking to school. This is a grant that communities apply for and receive in order to strengthen and build the community in the areas of health, wellness, and safety. It was formulated in response to the increasing obesity epidemic that is taking place in the nation's youth. It is focused on providing routes or venues for all members of a community to access safe walking, strolling, wheel-chairing, and biking routes in efforts of building healthy lifestyles for all. For it is only with guidance and modeling from adults that youth will see the importance and therefore the grans are for communties and all that utilize them. This grant also has other extreme positive impacts that put concerns over trees and flowers, moving fire hydrants and fences and snow removal to shame.
Hidden benefits include:
1) Reduced risk for heart disease and respiratory struggles.
2) Creation of the protein of BDNF (only created through physical activity) in the brain which makes receiving and using new information possible. Therefore, improving the potential for students to make academic progress.
3) Natural creation of chemicals in the brain such as dopamine etc that improve conditions such as stress, anxiety, depression, attention and impulsivity.
4) Increase in positive behavior habits and reduced risk behaviors associated with alcohol and drug use, sexual activity, poor eating habits, lack of physical activity and tobacco use.
So what can be done to make sidewalks happen in my community of Underwood, ND? I beleive that explaining the need, the large picture and the benefits of building the sidewalks besides improved property values need to be shared. It will take encouragement and trust to get those opposed to listen and step off their front stoop to see the community as it is now and how it can become a better place for all. It becomes a discussion that forces one to become less selfish and more selfless.
Here's to a healthier, safer, more understanding and stronger community as a result of creating sidewalks and being energized for the future.