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Could City And Public Space Design Help Solve Obesity Crisis?

The Texas Public Health Association's Built Environment Conference on March 19 will address concerns about the lack of exercise designed into public spaces, and how design may contribute to obesity in the 21st Century.

Architects and designers will come away with a toolbox of healthier design practices so that the people who use their buildings have a greater opportunity for moving around.

The new biggest killer in society is obesity.

Dr. Thomas Schlenker, director of public health for the City of San Antonio, said constructing the physical design of a city should be a collaborative process, and he wants to see health professionals and architects working in the same direction.

Schlenker said too many people are sedentary at their jobs, especially in buildings with elevators and escalators. 

"Focal points in older buildings often were the stairs," said Schlenker. "They would have elaborate and beautiful staircases because escalators didn’t exist yet. But also because they were beautiful and impressive physical structures and it kind of made you want to walk up and down. Now, if you try to take a stairwell in a building, it’s usually ugly and dirty, and half of the time you get trapped or you get let out onto a parking lot."

Schlenker said that in the early days of public health, much of the success of eliminating tuberculosis came from reconfiguring buildings and structures of urban living.

Schlenker said he is seeing more people get outdoors to enjoy San Antonio’s urban activities such as jogging on the Riverwalk or kayaking down the river, but said the city needs to pay more attention to shade so that people can continue to get outside during the summer. 

Tuesday’s Built Environment Conference is part of the Texas Public Health Association’s annual conference at the St. Anthony Riverwalk.

Conference topics include: Strategies for incorporating the placement and design of stairs, elevators, and indoor and outdoor spaces.

Rick Bell, the executive director of the American Institute of Architects' New York chapter, will be the keynote speaker. Bell will address the work carried out by AIA and the New York City Department of Health in creating Active Design Guidelines.

The guidelines also address urban design strategies for creating neighborhoods, streets, and outdoor spaces that encourage more walking, bicycling, and active transportation and recreation.

The Built Environment Conference is scheduled for Tuesday, March 19 at the St. Anthony Riverwalk as part of the Texas Public Health Association’s annual conference.

Eileen Pace is a veteran radio and print journalist with a long history of investigative and feature reporting in San Antonio and Houston, earning more than 50 awards for investigative reporting, documentaries, long-form series, features, sports stories, outstanding anchoring and best use of sound.