UGA, rural communities work on safe walking routes

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The aim is to develop areas for residents to exercise and play safely

In many rural Georgia communities, there are few safe routes away from high-traffic areas that allow opportunities for physical activity. Without this infrastructure, walking in the community can be dangerous and difficult.

But now, a team of University of Georgia faculty and students are working with rural Georgia communities to create more spaces where everyone can exercise and play safely.

Using an innovative mapping tool, the team was able to present recommendations where communities could install sidewalks and bike lanes to provide new walking routes to everyday destinations.

Creating areas where it’s safe and easy to be physically active is one of the main goals of the Healthier Together program, a CDC-funded interdisciplinary project that also aims to increase access to healthy foods to fight high rates of obesity and chronic disease. Making healthy choices that can prevent these illnesses can be a challenge in rural Georgia communities where easy access to local grocery stores and parks is quite limited.

The program is working in partnership with five rural Georgia counties — Calhoun, Clay, Dooly, Stewart and Taliaferro — to determine sustainable ways to help residents eat better and move more.

It is essential to identify areas where the community should focus its resources, and this is where Donnie Longenecker, senior lecturer at UGA’s College of Environment and Design, and CED students will offer his services. and his expertise.

Longenecker and CED graduate student Kayla Joiner developed a tool to identify optimal routes for biking and walking in the five counties of Healthier Together, and a class of third-year landscape architecture students used the tool to prepare an inventory of the existing conditions in each of the communities. .

“These conditions are loaded into a geographic information system software application and overlaid on a city map to locate opportunities and constraints for biking and walking trips,” Longenecker said. “Students can use these analysis maps to test and refine their design ideas.”

The GIS tool was first tested in Stewart County in 2021, then refined for use in Calhoun County in 2022.

The software also allows students to find undeveloped plots of land that could be developed in a way that encourages healthy eating and physical activity.

For example, students worked with the local school principal in Taliaferro County to develop plans for a community and educational garden at the school.

“Donnie and Kayla strengthened this project. Their landscape architecture expertise helped improve a grant application in Fort Gaines, Georgia, and added ideas that would not have been considered without the College of Environment and Design on the team. The interdisciplinary nature of the team is critical to the mission of the Healthier Together Project,” said Hannah Southall, Healthier Together program coordinator at UGA’s College of Public Health.

The Healthier Together team was able to use the plans created by the CED class to apply for additional funding to support their mission. The Taliaferro County School Garden is under construction and the mayor of Fort Gaines, Georgia in Stewart County recently submitted a grant to support the construction of a public park in the downtown area. of the city, Jefferson Street Park. The app has been bolstered by including a blueprint developed by Joiner and the Spring 2022 CED class, Southall said.

Longencker and Southall plan to work with other county and city leaders to seek more funding to make those plans a reality in 2022 and 2023.

The Jefferson Street Park master plan in Fort Gaines.

“From a very high-level perspective, there has been no quantifiable scientific link between landscape architecture and public health. Being involved in this project allows us to take a step in this direction and opens up new new avenues for partnerships. Cementing this in the scientific community makes huge strides for landscape architects and gives our students practical application of their work,” Longenecker said.

The Healthier Together Project is an interdisciplinary collaboration between UGA Extension, the College of Public Health, the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, the College of Environment and Design, and the College of Family and Consumer Sciences. For more information on everything the Healthier Together Project is working on, visit https://site.extension.uga.edu/healthiertogether/.

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