This past weekend, much of the Midwest (including the Dallas/Fort Worth area) was hit with a winter storm mix that brought snow and freezing rain/ice. Six years ago when I moved to Dallas, I made the decision to live in a mixed-use area, and it has paid off in immeasurable ways. On Saturday morning, I walked to a local coffee shop for my daily chai. After that, I walked on to the grocery store, which is 6 blocks away and bought fresh fruit for breakfast (it wasn’t local fruit, but that will change in 2014 when a Texas-based grocery chain will open 5 blocks from my place). Finally, I stopped by the dry cleaners, which is also within 3 blocks. Had I not wanted to walk, I could have taken the trolley system, which provides transportation options for the Uptown/Downtown area of Dallas. Living in a mixed-use area provided me with the ability to run errands without getting in my car and driving, which decreased my chances of being involved in a crash on the icy streets and roads.
Not all of my friends and colleagues live in urban areas where there are more opportunities to have this choice, but wouldn’t it be great if these options were available to rural and suburban areas, as well? It may take more federal/state and local financing incentives to help build the culture for this effort. Dallas has used Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to finance new public improvements in designated areas (such as where I live). These improvements include wider sidewalks, public landscaping, lighting, environmental remediation, and historic façades, etc. The goal is to stimulate new private investment. Any increase in tax revenues (caused by new development and higher property values) is paid into a special TIF fund to finance improvements.
While some of these ideas may seem like “no brainers” to those of us in public health, it may be a hard sell to others. My brother-in-law is a successful landscape architect. He has told me that he prefers to work with commercial developers to design more mixed-use areas. However, he often runs into resistance from apartment/condo developers who do not want to relinquish space for retail/services because it limits how many units they can build. How can we help these developers realize that more retail/services in an area are likely to cause more people to purchase/rent their units than having them sit unsold or unrented? My apartment complex is always at 98% occupancy and the condos in the area usually sell within days/weeks.
Likewise, my sister-in-law who lives in a rural community and served on the community’s Main Street Board told me that even with grant funding, it was difficult to convince local business owners to make improvements because many lived outside of the city limits. Additionally, persons on fixed incomes who lived within the radius were afraid of higher property taxes.
We clearly have many barriers to overcome, but I believe this is worth our time and effort as injury and violence prevention professionals. These types of environmental/policy improvements/changes can have huge benefits to our cause, and to a larger extent public health.