How your community is probably killing you

Safe, quiet, peaceful -- and slowly contributing to your early demise.

Safe, quiet, peaceful — and slowly contributing to your early demise.

One thing that concerns me today is how much people move these days. Or should I say, how little people move.

I love the stories of friends I know who have broken loose from sedentary lifestyles and found not only healthy living, but a sense of empowerment and a bigger world available to them.

The father of three who dropped 50 pounds and got his hypertension in check.

The woman, beaten down by a lot of what life has thrown at her, doing her first 5K. Which turned into a 10K. A half marathon. And then the full 26.2.

A woman who tried on her kid’s discarded hiking boots, hiked to the top of Pikes Peak and developed a habit that, 60 pounds later, has turned her into a lean, mean hiking machine.

But I know for each of these stories, there are scores of others in which people do not succeed in getting healthy. Surrounding them are forces that conspire to keep them inactive, eating junk and sleeping erratically. Awaiting them are obesity, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and premature degradation of their musculo-skeletal system.

Call it death by underuse.

There are a lot of factors in this. Admittedly, some people choose to slowly kill themselves via lifestyle choices. But in other instances, things are done to us that work us into an oddly stressful state of physical inactivity.

One of those things: Our cities.

More than 80 percent of the U.S. population lives in urban areas. Different historical and socio-economic factors have determined how these communities are designed and grow. What is mostly true, especially in the Midwest and West, is that our cities are compartmentalized in ways that inhibit the free flow of people moving in things other than our cars. Let’s take a tour so you can see what I mean.

Here is where we work.


Here is where we shop.


Here is where we entertain ourselves.


And this is where we live.


And this is how we get to all these places, which are often disconnected from each other, sometimes at distances of 10, 20, or even 50 miles or more.


For a lot of us, that means sitting in a car for anywhere from 10 to 90 minutes a day to get to and from work; 8 to 12 hours a day sitting at work; 10 to 30 minutes each way to go shopping; 10 to 60 minutes going somewhere to sit and eat, then jump back in the car to sit and watch a two-hour show; and when it’s all done and over with, plop down at home in front of the TV and spend the last waking moments of our day sitting.

By the way, sitting a lot is not good for you.

A lot of us, in an attempt to escape these confines, buy a house on land in the country, with the thought of being able to relax in peace and quiet, in nature, and away from the stresses of battling city congestion. The reality is that it usually just increases our drive times, because a home in the exburbs or out in the country is just another compartment of a life filled with disconnected compartments in which navigating the to-and-from requires more time on your butt, driving.

This is the reality of modern, zoned development. Want an ice cream cone? Get in your car and drive. Need to pick up some groceries? Get a bite to eat? Meet someone for a brew or two? Drive time is involved. And on Sundays, a lot of us pile the family into the car (big SUV?) and drive a good ways to church, sometimes to buildings that resemble malls, complete with sprawling parking lots to handle all those wheeled metal boxes toting the faithful to their respective houses of worship.

Notice I haven’t even mentioned things like going to the gym for a lift or heading somewhere to go run run or ride your bike. Most times, you’ve got to drive to those places, too, because neighborhood fitness centers have been replaced by big gyms in strip malls and shopping districts, many neighborhoods aren’t pedestrian-friendly and most parks aren’t designed for much else outside of playgrounds or your kids’ baseball/softball/soccer games in mind.

Now picture instead a community that grows more organically, a place where you work, shop and play is all mixed together, with most everything within walking distance. Imagine being able to walk out your door, stroll a few blocks and be at the doorstep of your favorite restaurant or pub. Your gym is three doors down. Your office is 10 minutes on foot, or 5 minutes by bike. Your community is a place with quick access to walkable, runnable, bike-able paths where you can get a good sweat. Green spaces are designed for everyone in mind, regardless of age.

If you lived in that kind of a community, you’d not only save a ton of money on gas, but you’d move your body a lot more. Our bodies are designed to move, not sit. Chances are, you’d also be a lot more connected to your community, as being in its midst on foot tends to feel a lot different than being inside your car – itself a tiny compartment of life, complete with its own climate, entertainment and communications.

Our communities are already built, so it’s not like we’re going to tear them down and rebuild them into some pedestrian utopia. But I have to wonder what, if any, steps community leaders will be taking in the future to help their cities and towns evolve into something healthier for their people.

We need to move more. We need to feel more physical connection to the places where we live, something beyond being the place where we mow a yard once a week and go to sleep at night. I can’t blame people for wanting to live in affordable homes, places with good schools and communities that are safe, peaceful and quiet. I just wish more of them were places that weren’t making us sicker.

It’s something to think about. Maybe if you agree, you can demand better. And if not, maybe it’s a good time to re-examine where we live, and find somewhere that might help you live longer – and live better.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

Finding your urban trail

Part of my urban trail.

There are different breeds of runners who find their motivations in different places. Running with friends or running solo. With headphones or without. Running to lose weight and stay in shape. Running to compete.

Those who are deep into this activity often cite the aesthetics of running. The increased heart rate. The challenge of pushing your mind and your body to new heights. The sense of accomplishment.

Aesthetics can also be found in your surroundings. That’s why trail running has become so big in runners’ circles as you get to enjoy your sport in the surroundings of nature. I get that in a major way.

But what do you do when you can’t just step outside every day into some natural wonderland? What if you step outside and all you see is an urban jungle?

It’s here I argue that while the aesthetics are different, the results can be the same. It’s inside the folds of the city that you can find your urban trail.

Now I’m not talking about getting on the Internet and looking for urban trails designed by city planners. These are great and badly needed. Anything to get people outside and moving is definitely worthy of taxpayer dollars. But what I’m talking about it something totally different.

I’ve often used running as a method to explore a place. It can be a neighborhood, a state park, or a wilderness area. And it can also be a city.

The beauty of exploring a city is that the lay of the land, so to speak, can vary so widely. The variety of sights is actually surprising.

I love my parks and my trail runs. But the core of my training occurs on city streets. And let me tell you, it’s not drudgery. It’s fascinating.

In a single run, I can pass by gleaming office towers and spectacular art-deco architecture. I’ll keep heading east, then north and find myself in the heart of Tulsa’s Blue Dome District, passing by a number of hip restaurants and bars, and all the people who frequent them.

As the journey continues, there’s the ballpark, a relatively new and attractive venue for my city’s minor-league baseball team. Not long after, I turn west, and sometimes I’ll strike a path through Reconciliation Park, a three-acre memorial to the hundreds of people who were killed and thousands more traumatized in the race riots that occurred in that very spot nearly a century ago. It’s a beautiful space and a great reminder of how awful people can be to each other.

Once leaving the park, I trot past new buildings under construction in the Brady District, a once rundown part of town that is seeing a renaissance of sorts as apartments, galleries, clubs and restaurants open up. One street in particular sports a coffee house that’s been there since the bad old days of Brady. They serve a great cup of joe, and the people who frequent it remind me of a scene from “Portlandia,” and I mean that in the best of possible terms (quirky is good in my book). I’m reminded that each chai latte I’ve consumed there might not have happened had I not explored this part of the city during my many runs.

As I continue west, then north, I go past two of Oklahoma’s most famous concert halls – the Brady Theater (a century old tank of a building affectionately called “The Old Lady on Brady”) and Cain’s Ballroom. How big is Cain’s? Let’s just say that everyone who is anyone in Oklahoma plays there, including bigger bands like the Flaming Lips. Cain’s was cool back in the day when this part of town was better known as a hangout for hookers and winos, back before it became hip.

Toward the end of my run I hit skid row. That lonely stretch of Denver Avenue heading back toward the high rises is home to two homeless shelters, industrial businesses and the county jail. Sidewalks along this street are traversed by any number and type of people who have fallen on some pretty hard times. A lot of people would find this sketchy, but the truth is I think some of the lawyers and business sharks atop those skyscrapers are scarier than the quiet and unassuming down-and-outers shuffling along this street.

Under the railroad tracks I go, then uphill past the gleaming BOK Center, a gorgeous arena that hosts basketball games, hockey games and concerts. Then I turn into my home stretch, past the central bus station, two courthouses and then into the heart of downtown again.

I end this little jaunt tired and yet refreshed, both physically and mentally. In the near future, there are other streets on which I could turn, new people to see, more places to inspect.

My streets lack the natural beauty of other places I love, but make no mistake. My streets are my trail.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088