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Natural Awakenings Naples and Fort Myers

Health and the Local Built Environment: by Linda Sechrist

Apr 01, 2014 04:53PM

If Deborah Chesna’s goal comes to fruition, in the not-so-distant future, residents will be able to walk or ride their bike on a complete system of safe streets, sidewalks, pathways and greenways within Naples and Collier County.

As the program consultant for the Health Communities Coalition (HCC), and working in conjunction with its nonprofit partner, Naples Pathway Coalition, and the Florida Department of Health Collier County, Chesna is part of a determined collaboration of individuals seeking to promote the concepts of health, safety and connectivity as important aspects of planning our built environment.

“Because incorporating health as a fundamental component in development projects is a new concept for most developers and planners to consider, I am attempting to work closely with the transportation department, county planning department, architects and all who are involved in the design community to build awareness regarding the connection between health and built environment,” says Chesna.

With the rising cost of health care, HCC and its partners are focusing on the ramifications of obesity and a sedentary lifestyle. “Our streets are not only an important part of the livability of our communities, but also can be an incentive for enticing people outdoors to exercise and enjoy our beautiful environment,” notes Chesna. “Many health challenges are directly related to the built environment.”

HCC is working to institute language in policy that considers the “health component” to ensure that transportation planners and engineers consistently design and operate the entire roadway with all users in mind, including bicyclists, public transportation vehicles and riders, as well as pedestrians of all ages and abilities. “Streets should be for everyone—young or old, motorist or bicyclist, walker or wheelchair user, bus rider or shopkeeper. We want people to have accessible pathways not just between sidewalks which end at a busy highway, but also around closed communities which separate a walker or cyclist from their destination and challenge them to change direction and enter a dangerous highway,” Chesna explains.

Changing policy to routinely include the needs of people on foot, public transportation, and bicycles would make walking, riding bikes and buses safer and easier. People of all ages and abilities would have more options when traveling to work, to school, to the grocery store and to visit family. “Complete Streets and connected pathways for walking and bicycling can not only entice more people to use their cars less, but they present many opportunities for people to slow down and see what amenities the business sector has to offer along the streets and gives opportunities to create destinations for people to get to in their daily lives,” adds Chesna.

To learn more about healthy communities and smart growth principles such as Complete Streets, visit

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