I was inspired by my Anchorage Assembly member, Elvi Gray-Jackson, when I saw a video of her introducing first lady Michelle Obama. The Municipality of Anchorage was being honored at a White House ceremony, as part of the first lady's Let's Move! Cities, Towns and Counties (LMCTC) initiative, which seeks to combat childhood obesity.
Anchorage was one of 63 communities nationwide that met certain goals of this initiative, like posting a healthy food guide at city buildings with food service, and offering school meal programs. Assembly Member Gray-Jackson, along with Chair Dick Traini and others including Anchorage School District staff have been meeting to further Anchorage's path down the LMCTC's list of priorities.
As the parent of a 7 year-old and an avid biker, I was intrigued by this effort to help kids make healthy choices. I was pleased to see that biking and bike infrastructure is high on the Let's Move! list of priorities, including protected bike lanes that have worked well in other cities. Helping build more bike lanes will make biking safer for all. Some other items on the bike list, like a 3-foot passing law (AMC 9.16.030) and bike racks on buses, Anchorage already has. More funding for bike infrastructure and bike facilities in Anchorage is a wise investment to get us all moving safely.
The initiative also calls for innovative designs that will help the city stay healthy by walking – things like street connectivity to paths and walkways, and working with builders to engineer smart ways for people to get where they need to go by walking. This isn't just for recreation but for how people move about our city – on pathways, trails and sidewalks – and maintain an active lifestyle.
But it's not just bikes and trails that the Let's Move! initiative seeks to bolster, and that's why I think it has a better chance at success than other, similar attempts in the past. Let's Move! is a community-wide effort that also endeavors to boost the number of businesses offering their employees healthy choices, and to increase the number of slow zones around schools, parks and rec centers. There are guidelines for purchasing healthy food for meetings and physical activity breaks to replace the unhealthy break that used to happen.
In an effort to make sure that healthy exercise is followed by healthy foods, Let's Move! wants to expand both the number of farmers markets and the number of community gardens in Anchorage. Growing your own food or eating fresh food that was grown close by is a healthy choice that boosts the local economy and brings the community together. The Let's Move! initiative encourages zoning changes that would inspire land use policies to foster farmers markets and community gardens – viewing them not as extras to be added on when it's convenient but as parts of the original plan for a healthy community.
While I work and volunteer for groups that support bikes and trails, Let's Move! is challenging us all to step outside of our roles and think about the bigger picture. Anchorage needs bike lanes and trails, to be sure – and I hope they help people exercise on their way to a farmers market or the community garden they tend, or the many other places where we live, work and play every day. Connecting those dots will be a great way to promote health in our community. Let's Move!
Steve Cleary is the executive director of Alaska Trails and a volunteer board member of Bike Anchorage.
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