A Step in the Right Direction
Promoting Walkability in Alliance
By SHAUN FRIEDRICHSEN
Over 30 people gathered together at Box Butte General Hospital Exercise Gym Meeting Room on May 24, all working toward a common goal: to make Alliance a walkable community and to promote an active population.
The forum lasted for roughly two and a half hours, where citizens, business owners and elected officials shared ideas on how to promote healthy lifestyles in Alliance.
Jessica Davies, assistant health director for Panhandle Public Health District, explained that other municipalities in the state have been launching efforts to make their communities more walkable.
“We have had a number of successes in the communities we have been working with in the active living space,” said Davies. “Box Butte General hospital included it in their community health-improvement plan. Then, we find funds and opportunities to help support that, and we were fortunate to have another come along. We were fortunate enough to say, ‘Okay, Alliance is ready.’ The hospital is an incredible partner and willing to make that happen.”
With chronic diseases on the rise in the world today, Davies believes it is important to promote healthy lifestyles for people of all ages.
“Cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity are all on the rise,” Davies said. “That’s really what’s going on on the health side. But then, there was a recent report on the number of pedestrian deaths rising. What I gather from that, is that people want to be active, but we have to create ideal conditions for that to happen.
“Alliance has an incredible infrastructure,” Davies said. “They have an outstanding trail; they have a great grid system. There are just some things that were noted to compliment that and help make it safer. What we know is when there are key connections to the library and the pool and the grocery store, and the environment lends itself to being active, whether it’s walking or biking as an active means of transportation, people will do that. When it’s not safe, obviously they don’t. We have to create the ideal conditions—sidewalks, intersections, crosswalks—to make sure that they’re safer.”
Some of the ideas people shared at the meeting to help make Alliance more walkable included painting cross walks, posting signage and working to enforce more codes throughout the city.
Davies said she was impressed with the number of people who attended the forum and believes it is a good sign that the community wants to have the conversation about promoting activity in Alliance.
“I think there was a lot of passion,” Davies said. “We had really strong leadership in the room from all sorts of entities, city council, chamber of commerce, the superintendent. People were very committed to seeing the discussion to fruition. I always think that’s amazing. That’s where the community will be successful.”
Dan Newhoff, wellness coordinator at Box Butte General Hospital, explained that BBGH is dedicated to helping the community become more active. He believes it is important to determine what the community needs during this process, in order to promote wellness in Alliance. He said was also impressed with the turnout at the event.
“For me, that’s a win in itself,” said Newhoff. “Having that input, we know there are people interested there are stakeholders in the community. They showed up today, and we’re going to be able to move forward with that.”
For Newhoff, promoting wellness in Alliance is important because it adds to the overall quality of life.
“The Surgeon General said we need to promote physical activity because it cuts down the risk of chronic disease,” Newhoff said. “The more physically active you are, the less you’re going to have of some early mortality, or some kind of high, costly disease. It just has so many benefits that it’s worth taking time and resources to look into and promote it to the community. I hope this leads to a shared vision and more awareness about why we need to be physically active. Oftentimes, we get busy with our personal lives, and we forget about our personal health. Pretty soon, we’re in the hospital trying to fix ourselves instead of trying to prevent it in the first place. I think everyone has some place for it in their life, and it’s going to make an impact, and it will be a positive one.”
Davies and Newhoff encourage people to get in contact with Panhandle Public Health District or BBGH if they would like more information on how to get involved in the process. Another meeting will be hosted soon to discuss the ideas shared at the forum and to create a solid plan to make Alliance more walkable.