The statement sites urban sprawl as one of the main causes of childhood obesity because often kids can’t walk to parks or schools (Photo courtesy of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)
Turns out there’s more to childhood
obesity that junk food and bad genes.
A national group of doctors places
some of the blame on urban design.
Jennifer Guerra has more:
Turns out there’s more to childhood
obesity that junk food and bad genes.
A national group of doctors places
some of the blame on urban design.
Jennifer Guerra has more:
The American Academy of Pediatrics puts out so-called ‘policy statements’ all the time. Usually they’re for other doctors to read.
But this time, the doctors group is taking aim at lawmakers.
The group issued a statement in Pediatrics Magazine that basically says urban sprawl is one of the main causes of childhood obesity because often kids can’t walk to parks or schools.
June Tester is the lead author. She says the statement was a little controversial within the group.
“A lot of time, physicians are too busy or feel uncomfortable about being in the role of an advocate. But it’s a shame, because when physicians are actually motivated enough to speak to legislators, it can actually make a big difference.”
Tester says the response from the urban planning community has been really positive. Now she hopes lawmakers keep the research in mind when it comes time to vote for legislation that will affect a community’s design.
Insurance rates are often lower if you live in the suburbs. (Photo courtesy of the USDA)
People who live in the city pay higher insurance rates for cars and homes than people in the suburbs. Often it’s a lot more. The insurance industry says it’s using the fairest method. The GLRC’s Lester Graham reports that method might contribute to urban sprawl:
People who live in the city pay higher insurance rates for cars and homes
than people in the suburbs. Often it’s a lot more. The insurance industry
says it’s using the fairest method. The GLRC’s Lester Graham reports
that method might contribute to urban sprawl:
(Sound of car starting)
We’re taking a little drive and Brandi Stoneman is showing me where she used to live.
It’s just two-and-a-half miles from where she works. But… she met a guy… they
dated… they fell in love… and after a while decided to move in together.
His house was bigger. So, Brandi moved from her home near downtown
and out to his house 15 miles out into the suburbs.
When she told her insurance agent… she got a surprise. Her auto
insurance rates dropped… a lot.
“It almost was in half when they—when I told them I’d moved and
changed and it almost dropped in half. Of course I was excited, but it
was amazing. It was a huge difference.”
“Did you ask them why?”
“I did ask them why and they said, of course, that it was the area that I
lived in. It went by the zip code and it didn’t have really have much to do
with the fact that I was farther away from work.”
So, instead of five miles to work and back… she drives 30 miles… to the
same downtown location, but that wasn’t the only surprise. She kept her
old home in town… so, like her boyfriend, she still needed to buy
“And when we both were looking and shopping for insurance rates, I
spent about three-to-four hundred dollars on my premium on a house that
was almost half the price of his, and that was, again, because of where I
lived and the zip code and the area that I live in.”
If you live in the city… this might sound familiar. You probably know a
colleague or friend in the suburbs who’s paying a lot lower insurance
rates. Stoneman lives in Michigan. That state’s Office of Financial and
Insurance Services spokesman, Ken Ross, says it’s typical of insurance
rates across the country.
“Our urban population centers have experienced higher rates for both
home and auto insurance. That is a function of insurance companies
pairing the higher costs associated with living in an urban environment, higher
concentration of people with higher losses and those losses are paired
with rates being filed and ultimately premiums being charged to
consumers who live in those areas.”
And the regulators say that’s a pretty fair way of doing things. The
insurance industry also thinks it’s fair.
Peter Kuhnmuench is with the Insurance Institute of Michigan.
“Largely because of the density of the population, the incidents of
collision, the incidents of theft are much higher in an urban area than
they are out in the outlying suburban areas.”
Kuhnmuench says if people choose to live in the city, they should expect
to pay higher insurance rates. He agrees that the lower rates in the
suburbs might be an incentive to move there.
“Well, I would certainly believe that cost factors for insurance would be
a contributing factor to your decision to move from the city to the
suburbs. Obviously, higher insurance rates reflected in the city could be
one of those contributing factors, I guess, Lester, but overall those rates
pretty much reflect the underlying costs to provide the coverage in those
Different state legislatures have considered laws that would make
insurance rates less dependent on where you live, but those kinds of bills
usually don’t even make it to a vote because legislators don’t want to
anger suburban voters by making them subsidize urban insurance costs.
So instead, more people move to the suburbs and ironically, everybody else
subsidizes the cost of new suburban streets, more lanes of highways, and
other infrastructure costs associated with the sprawling suburbs and
accommodating the people who commute to the city.
And while the lower insurance rates encourage a move to the suburbs,
big city mayors say the higher rates in urban areas discourage
redevelopment in the city. Those mayors, urban legislators, and
advocacy groups lobby state legislatures to find an insurance rate
structure that doesn’t penalize those people who choose to live in the city
and reward those who spread out to the suburbs.
Lilies like these reside in the Reinstein Nature Preserve. Environmentalists worry about natural life in the preserve as the state of New York considers opening it up without restrictions.
Imagine a suburban, backyard wilderness where 200 year-old trees still stand. That’s exactly what you’ll find at the 300 acre Reinstein Nature Preserve. It meanders right through the heart of a bustling suburb. The preserve has been limited to small groups led by a nature guide. But there’s a new plan to give unrestricted access. Some environmentalists worry that would ruin the preserve. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Joyce Kryszak takes us to the woods – and to the debate:
Imagine a suburban, backyard wilderness where 200 year-old trees still stand.
That’s exactly what you’ll find at the 300 acre Reinstein Nature preserve.
It meanders right through the heart of a bustling suburb. The preserve has been limited
to small groups led by a nature guide. But there’s a new plan to give unrestricted access.
Some environmentalists worry that would ruin the preserve. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Joyce Kryszak takes us to the woods – and to the debate:
A Great Blue Heron perches lazily in the distance above an expanse of pink water lilies.
At first Bob Reinstein doesn’t see the bird.
“I should’ve brought my field glasses.”
But then its giant wings spread wide, laboring to clear the water in this serene Monet-like setting.
“The lilies were a gift from two different environmental organizations…”
The man and the majestic heron both seem oblivious to the rush of cars and people just
beyond the edge of the woods. This is the Reinstein Nature Preserve. It’s framed on all sides
by a sprawling suburb of houses and shopping plazas in Western New York. Like his parents before
him, Bob Reinstein says he’s risked his life for nearly sixty years defending this scene; he guards it against trespassers – and sometimes trespassers with guns.
“Their lives were threatened several times, in fact, mine was also. I was unarmed at the time,
but he had pointed his shotgun at me and threatened to shoot. Realizing it was pointing at my face,
I stopped following him.”
But Reinstein never stopped trying to protect the nature preserve his father created half a century ago.
By the time he died in 1984, the elder Reinstein had dug nine ponds, planted thousands of trees,
rare ferns and flowers to compliment the ancient scene. The younger Reinstein says it’s like a
“Where else can schoolchildren walk back through history a hundred and fifty years and see
samples of what existed then, that are still here today?”
Reinstein says his father bequeathed the preserve to the state to keep it from being trampled.
He stipulated that it must stay forever wild. People could visit, but only for educational
purposes. And only with a trained nature guide. That could all be changing. A proposal by the
State Department of Environmental Conservation would give the public unrestricted access.
Jane Wiercioch lives in the nearby suburb and loves visiting her backyard wilderness. But today
Weirchioch is handing out petitions here. She hopes to stop the DEC from opening the preserve. She
says it would leave the woods vulnerable.
“I know I came in here the other day for a walk around that lily loop with my great granddaughters
and, of course, they were chasing frogs. So, I’m with them, I’m yelling at them, ‘don’t do anything.’ But can you imagine having people just coming in here and doing what they want?”
State conservation officials say bringing in more people is the whole point. Meaghan Boice-Green
is a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. She says all
other department-run properties are open to the public. Boice-Green says unrestricted access would be good for both the public and for the agency.
“We’re not talking about property that hasn’t touched by the hand of man, and in order for us
to obtain the funding to do the habitat maintenance that’s going to be necessary to maintain
this manmade habitat, we have to provide some public access. We’re not going to be able to
access funds to support a property that the public isn’t allowed to access.”
But the state has never had any trouble finding money to maintain the preserve before.
And Boice-Green couldn’t offer specifics about any extra funding.
Terry Boyle has volunteered as a guide at the preserve for eight years. But he agrees the
preserve should be unrestricted. Boyle says visitors can’t have a truly natural experience
if someone’s watching their every move.
“A lot of those people who do want to come in, they want to take photographs, they want to sit
down and reflect for a little bit about what they’re looking at, and that kind of stuff. So,
they can’t go at their own leisurely pace with tour guides, because we have to push them through a little bit
But the head of a local environmental group sees it differently. Larry Watson says if the
preserve is opened, there won’t be anything left to look at anyway. He believes the state is
just tired of policing the woods. But Watson says it was Dr. Reinstein’s wish that the
preserve be kept wild. And he should know. As a young boy sixty years ago, Watson spent many
long hours in the woods, helping Reinstein plant the saplings that now tower overhead.
“If they turn this into what they want to, it will be nothing more than a state park.
And we’d rather see it kept as an individual showpiece and a place New York state can be quite
proud of and show the rest of the country what can be done in the way of environmental
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation says it hasn’t made a final
decision. It will consider the wishes of those who want access to the preserve to remain
restricted. But many people are also demanding it be opened. Ultimately, the state says
it will likely let people come to the preserve whenever they want – and trust them
to be good caretakers.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Joyce Kryszak.
Heavy cleanup crews from the Genesee County Land Bank use chain saws, wood chippers, tractors and brute force to move piles of debris on the lot of an abandoned house on the north side of Flint, Michigan. (Photo by Chris McCarus)
Up until three years ago, rundown homes and abandoned lots were multiplying in the city. With the creation of the Land Bank, some people believe the city's image is beginning to turn around for the better. (Photo by Chris McCarus)
A next door neighbor to the abandoned house visits the cleanup crew. She has had to bear the eyesore and health risk next door for several years. The Land Bank currently has custody of about 2,800 properties like this in and around Flint. (Photo by Chris McCarus)
One community is fighting its problems of abandoned lands and unpaid property taxes. Those problems have led to a decaying inner city and increased suburban sprawl. The new tool the community is using is called a “land bank.” It uses a unique approach to try to fix up properties that otherwise often would be left to deteriorate. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris McCarus reports:
One community is fighting its problems of abandoned lands and unpaid property taxes.
They’ve led to a decaying inner city and increased suburban sprawl. The new tool the
community is using is called a “land bank.” It uses a unique approach to try to fix up
properties that otherwise often would be left to deteriorate. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Chris McCarus reports:
(sound of work crews operating wood chipper)
Cleanup crews are sending downed branches through a wood chipper on a vacant lot.
They’re also removing tires, used diapers, car seats, sinks, old clothes and dead animal carcasses.
The workers are from the Genesee County Land Bank in Flint, Michigan. They’re trying to
make abandoned property useful again. Dan Kildee is the Genesee County Treasurer and the brains
behind the land bank. He thinks this new approach can recover unpaid property tax money and help
improve the Flint Metro area.
“The community gets to make a judgment on what we think we should do with this land. We get
to take a deep breath.”
Empty lots and rundown homes have been multiplying for a generation. That’s left the city of
Flint in a terrible economic state. But the land bank is beginning to change things.
Until just three years ago, Michigan was like most other states. No one had come up with
a solution. The state would auction off a city’s tax liens. Then conflict between the tax
lien buyer and the property owner could go on for up to seven years. In the meantime,
properties were left to neglect and often vandalized.
Under this new program, the treasurer’s office forecloses on a property and hands it over
to the land bank, which acts as the property manager. The land bank might then demolish
a house; it might throw out the owner and let a tenant buy it; or it might auction it off
to the highest bidder. A private investor can’t just buy a tax lien. He has to buy the
property along with it and take care of it.
The land bank is financed in two main ways: through fees on back taxes and through sales
of the few nicer homes or buildings the land bank acquires that bring in relatively big
profits. Treasurer Dan Kildee says it makes sense to take that revenue to fix up old
properties and sell them to people who deserve them.
“There is no system in the United States that pulls together these tools. Both the
ability to quickly assemble property into single ownership of the county, the tools
to manage it and the financing tools to develop that property.”
The land bank program hopes to change the perception of Flint. As thousands of abandoned
homes, stores and vacant lots become eyesores, people and their money go other places,
usually to build more sprawling suburbs. The perception that people are abandoning the
inner city then speeds up that abandonment. Many people who can afford to leave the city do.
And those who can’t afford to move are left behind.
According to data gathered by the research group Public Sector Consultants, Flint has the
state’s highest unemployment and crime rates and the lowest student test scores.
Art Potter is the land bank’s director. He thinks the downward spiral can be stopped.
When it is, those folks in the central city won’t have to suffer for still living there.
“Even though the City of Flint has lost 70,000 people in the last 30 years, the people who
are still here deserve to have a nice environment to live in. So our immediate goal is to
get control and to clean these properties now.”
Urban planning experts are watching the land bank approach. Michigan State
University’s Rex LaMore says Flint is typical of Midwestern cities whose manufacturing
base has shrunk. Private owners large and small have left unproductive property behind.
As the land bank steps in, LaMore says it’s likely to succeed and become an example that
other municipalities can follow.
“They can begin to maybe envision a city of the 21st century that will be different than
the cities of the 20th century or the 19th century that we see around the United States.
A city that reflects a more livable environment. So its an exciting opportunity. I think
we have the vision; the challenge is can we generate the resources? And the land bank model
does provide some opportunity to do that.”
But the land bank is meeting obstacles. For example, the new mayor of Flint who took over
in July canceled the city’s existing contracts. A conservative businessman, the mayor is
suspicious of the city’s past deals. They included one with the land bank to demolish 57
homes. This has slowed the land bank’s progress. Its officials are disappointed but they’re
still working with the mayor to get the money released.
(sound of kids chatting, then lawn mower starts up)
The weeds grow rampant in a neighborhood with broken up pavement and sometimes
no houses on an entire block. It’s open and in an odd way, peaceful. Like a
century-old farm. It’s as if the land has expelled the people who invaded with their bricks,
steel and concrete.
In the middle of all the vacant lots, Katherine Alymo sees possibilities.
“I’ve bought a number of properties in the auctions from the land bank and also got a side
lot acquisition from them for my house. My driveway wasn’t attached to my house when I
bought it. And it was this huge long process to try to get it from them. But they sold it
to me for a dollar. Finally.”
And since then, she’s hired people to fix the floors, paint walls and mow the lawns.
She’s also finding buyers for her properties who want to invest in the city as she has.
Together, they say they needed some help and the land bank is making that possible.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chris McCarus.
New construction continues to spread into the countryside.
A new study looks at the quality of life in these suburban
People who move to the suburbs often say they’re escaping the stress of the city. But researchers are finding the suburbs cause a lot of stress for residents too, and the difference doesn’t seem to be as much about where you live as it is about how you live. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
People who move to the suburbs often say they’re escaping the stress of the city. But researchers are finding the suburbs cause a lot of stress for residents too. And, the difference doesn’t seem to be as much about where you live as it is about how you live. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports.
Ahhh, living in the suburbs, quiet tree lined streets, green lawns, and in the distance a glimpse of undisturbed woods along a creek or maybe farmland rolling off to the horizon. Across the Great Lakes region, the suburbs are picture perfect. Well, maybe not quite perfect.
A group of researchers has been spending a lot of time in the sprawling Chicago suburbs to see what draws people to the area, what they like, don’t like, from where they move and whether they intend to stay where they are, in the ‘burbs. What they’ve found is that living in the suburbs is not quite as stark or as bleak or as sterile as some of the popular press portrays it. But at the same time it’s not as blissful as the images in the brochures printed up by developers.
Charles Cappell is a sociologist at the Social Services Research Institute at Northern Illinois University. Since 1991 he’s been conducting surveys of people living in the suburbs. Mostly it’s been about why they live there. Usually the participants talk about their children, safety for their kids, nice schools, and nice green space for the family. But, recently Cappell and his team have been probing a little more deeply.
“In subsequent surveys, in 2000 for example, we did measure stress and we do know that suburbanites experience stress. They’re stressed from the demands of suburban life, some of the friction. But, in general, they report a fairly good quality of life.”
Of course, part of that quality of life is due to the surroundings. But after moving to the suburbs many people miss some of the more urban conveniences. And so as the housing developments sprout, the retailers are paving parking lots right behind them.
“This is one of the contradictions of suburban life: they value the quiet, green, suburban lawns and openness, and they crave the convenience of the shopping malls.”
But with that convenience comes the inconvenience of congested traffic on roads not designed to carry such huge volumes. While cities and counties spend untold millions of dollars widening old roads and building new ones, the suburbanites cope with the stresses of back-ups.
Rich Green is a geographer at Northern Illinois. He’s watched as the suburbs have spiraled out away from Chicago, causing an intricate and massive spider web of new roadways. Still, some politicians are calling for more and bigger roads in the suburbs. U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert is calling for an interstate to be built in his district that will create a new outer-belt for the Chicago metro area, some nearly 50 miles away from downtown. But Green says the Interstates in the Chicago area have simply created corridors of development. Instead of relieving traffic, some experts say the interstates around Chicago have simply given sprawl better access.
“Clearly, building these interstates hasn’t corrected some of the problems that people were hoping for. Usually, if you expand a highway, you bring more people.”
Traffic hassles are not the only stress suburbanites face. In fact, the more serious stressors have to do with the cost of living there. During the heady days of the stock market boom, people started building bigger and better houses out on one acre lots on the fringes of the ‘burbs. Now, because of the poor performance of the markets, those houses –sometimes derogatorily called ‘McMansions’– are extravagances that some suburbanites are struggling to afford. But if they want to live in the new Chicago suburbs, they don’t have much choice. Prices have skyrocketed and there’s very little in the way of affordable housing being built.
Dick Esseks is a retired professor who’s been doing research for the American Farmland Trust. The Trust is concerned about the loss of farmland due to development. Esseks says many of those who moved to the suburbs did so when times were good, but with the downturn in the economy, some of those people face forced early retirement.
“When they go from full-time workers to pensioned workers, can they find housing in the same community, stay in the same church, stay in the same synagogue, stay in other associations?”
Esseks says because many of the municipalities require large lots, have very high standards for construction, and agree to annex large subdivisions of ‘McMansions,’ they leave behind the chances for more affordable housing. Only the very well off can afford to live in many of the suburbs.
Still, even with the weight of big mortgages hanging over their heads, bad traffic congestion, and other stresses, researchers have found suburbanites seem to cope better on average than their counterparts in the city. Sociologist Charles Cappell says there’s a reason for that, and it has to do with who lives in the suburbs. Cappell says it’s established that married people and people with families tend to deal with stress better than single people. Older people are less stressed than young people, and the suburbs have a much greater ratio of traditional families with middle-aged parents than in the city.
“Some of the differences between quality of life between urban and suburban experiences can be attributed to the fact that urban places are more stressful or there are higher levels of stress because of these reasons. There’s more single people. They’re younger. But, the sources of stress, environmentally, may be different, but I think the bigger indicators of stress are your kind of social environment, your psychological space, how you cope, what kind of support you have and families in spite of their increased burdens on time, really do offer emotional support.”
So, people in the ‘burbs’, generally speaking, have a better support structure at home, and usually have the means to pay for a more comfortable, less stressful life to begin with. Cappell says getting out of the city and into the suburbs is not the answer to a stress-free life, but it just so happens there are a lot of people who live in the suburbs who are better able to cope with life’s stress.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.