Healthy People = Healthy Communities

It’s no secret that people get attached to their parking spot. Whether it’s in front of your home or your favorite coffee shop, (where you go every day) you feel entitled to YOUR spot. But it’s not really yours, it’s a public space and even if you did just spend three hours uncovering it from the snow…it’s still not yours. The “that’s my spot” phenomenon, is pervasive, causing people to feel the loss of something they never owned. We have allowed the automobile culture to take over and we have to learn to let go. Losing “your space” to a parklet is a good thing, not something to get rankled about. 

Parklets are a big movement in tactical urbanization across the country right now, but new to our region. Parklets are a creative way to re-imagine street space to best support a mix of activity. Yes, they sacrifice a parking space, but it’s a good sacrifice. They will help the community: studies done in the cities that already have parklets have shown that nearly every one of them has had an increase in revenue to nearby businesses, or an increase in pedestrians that help bring in more business as a consequence. In NYC, sales in nearby establishments went up 15%, in Philadelphia revenue was boosted by 20%. San Francisco has reported an increase of pedestrians in a range of 13-44% in some areas. In Long Beach, Lola’s Mexican Cuisine and Berlin Bistro had to hire 2 new full time and 4 new part time employees to accommodate the extra traffic.

That extra traffic is walking traffic. People aren’t as healthy as they once were and our downtowns aren’t either. Walking stimulates the urban economy while making individuals healthier, and it only takes a few blocks. Fewer than 25% of adults are estimated to meet the 30-minute recommendation through leisure time physical activity (LTPA). Dependent on your height and weight, 30 minutes of mild exercise could burn anywhere from 180-266 calories!

Mark Fenton is a national public health, planning, and transportation consultant, an adjunct associate professor at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, and former host of the “America’s Walking” series on PBS television. Mark creates a link between the health of individuals to the health of our communities and the role purposeful urban planning can play in creating healthy lifestyles. As Mark discusses in his talks, our communities are not as full of life as they once were. From his website:

“Build communities that support a healthier, more physically active population, and more sustainable and enjoyable lifestyles. Done well, active community designs lead to economically, environmentally, and socially thriving cities, towns, and rural settings where people of all ages, abilities, and incomes lead long, vibrant lives.” 

“An argument we made very qualitatively before, we can now make quantitatively,” says Prema Gupta, University City District’s director of planning and economic development. “Are those two parking spaces better used by 150 unique users? Or by two cars?” As architect and urbanist Jan Gehl said, “If people rather than cars are invited into the city, pedestrian traffic and city life increase correspondingly.”

Parklets are coming to Covington to promote walkability. To bring pedestrian life back into the streets; streets that are usually only over populated by cars. And if you’re pumping your brakes to stare at a parklet or turning your head and deciding to take a seat, that’s kind of the point. Parklets are good for surrounding businesses as they attract people to the location and give them a place to linger. Parklets are good for people because they allow for a walkable destination, which allows for more physical activity, which makes bodies healthier.

For little cost, a few well-placed Parklets can attract huge and diverse crowds, animating sidewalks, bolstering neighborhood businesses, and promoting good personal health. All while truly creating “places” where none existed before. Covington is uniquely poised to capitalize on this. Covington wants to be walkable, and welcoming.

After everyone stops freaking out about the loss of a parking space or two, Covington will benefit from the addition of parklets. Every city before us had the same complaint, but eventually they got out of their cars, enjoyed the new space, and discovered businesses that they had been driving by without noticing every day.