It Takes a (Small) City: Tackling Childhood Obesity With Complete Streets

kingston_stockade.jpgKingston’s historic neighborhoods are well-suited for walking and cycling, but elsewhere infrastructure is lacking.

Like policymakers across the country, officials in the small Hudson Valley city of Kingston, New York have found that tackling childhood obesity requires a big toolbox that includes both education and investment in safe routes for walking and biking.

To this end, the city’s "A Healthy Kingston for Kids" initiative, funded by a $360,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), identifies development of a complete streets policy and law as a key goal. However, as noted by Dave Gilmour, the chair of Kingston’s new Complete Streets committee, getting there will take more than "simply writing good code with teeth." The city officials and community organizations running the initiative will have to coordinate with a diversity of partners, embark on a grassroots education and advocacy program, and eventually build the community’s overall capacity for active living.

Physically, Kingston has the potential to be a walkable and bikeable community. The city proper is only 3 miles across, and is relatively compact in its development pattern, with a total population of just under 24,000 people according to the 2000 census. Located on the Hudson River, the city is a gateway to an abundant array of recreational opportunities in the Catskill Mountains and Hudson Valley region. However, its core is bisected by a four-lane road, Broadway, and many of its streets lack sidewalks or bike lanes.

Though Kingston was a key shipping hub in the days before railroads transformed the movement of freight in the region, the city now has a depressed urban core, with shuttered storefronts and unsafe streets.