Shelley Smith

Shelley Smith

This week I am virtually attending the 28th Annual Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU). Founded in 1993, CNU was formed out of the movement that began in the 1980s when many urban designers, architects, planners, developers, and engineers became frustrated with the prevailing development patterns of the time.

After World War II, development increasingly focused on building dispersed housing far from traditional downtowns and Main Streets, resulting in sprawling and destructive land use. In response, the new urbanist movement is credited with many development patterns and strategies that are commonplace now but were considered radical at the time of their introduction. These include mixed-use development, transit-oriented development, traditional neighborhood design, integrating design standards into affordable housing, and designing complete and beautiful streets. The irony of the new urbanism is that some of the most successful patterns and strategies to come out of the movement aren’t really new at all, but nods to many of the compact and walkable traditional development patterns that ended after the World War II as the automobile increasingly influenced city planning efforts.

New urbanism has evolved over the past 25 years to broaden the discussion on best practices for the preservation, design, development, and restoration of our regions, cities, and neighborhoods, yet remains a movement united by the belief that our physical environment has a direct impact on our chances for happy, healthy, and prosperous lives.

If you don’t think that your surroundings contribute to your health and longevity, just ask Dan Buettner, the opening plenary speaker at this year’s CNU. Building on a life’s worth of interest in health and longevity, Dan Buettner’s Blue Zones organization has studied thousands of communities over the years to discover that the oldest, healthiest people in the world reside in places, dubbed Blue Zones, with strong adherence to new urbanist principles. In fact, new research indicates that adopting new urban principles for our built environment can help the U.S. achieve health and wellness goals across generations.

The most striking statement that I heard during Mr. Buettner’s keynote was his description of Blue Zones, a term he trademarked, as “places where doing the easiest thing is also the best thing for you.” Buettner’s organization has identified five places in the world as Blue Zones, places where people live the longest, and are healthiest: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California. The researchers found that residents of Blue Zones all share nine specific lifestyle habits, which Buettner and his team refer to as the Power 9. They also discovered that there is a direct correlation between how they live and their built environment.

According to their website, “Blue Zones is now dedicated to creating healthy communities across the United States” through improvements in the built environment. The first effort by the organization to recreate a Blue Zone in Albert Lea, Minnesota, was extremely successful and formed the blueprint for the Blue Zones Projects initiative to make the healthy choice the easy choice in cities and towns nationwide, beginning with downtown areas. According to Blue Zones, “we improve street and park designs, public policy, and social involvement so that it’s easy for people to make healthy choices.”

To read about the nine evidence-based common lifestyle denominators identified by Blue Zones and successful strategies identified to realign the built environment with healthy lifestyles visit www.bluezones.com. If you have an idea for our downtown that would make it easier for you to make healthier choices, look for this article on the Tullahoma News Facebook page and post a comment, or email me at shelley@downtowntullahoma.com.

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