By Alejandra Garcia, Project Coordinator, Alta Planning + Design
Cities Changing Diabetes has estimated that five million people every month move from the countryside to a city somewhere in the world. Cities provide opportunities, economic growth, and development. However, cities that are experiencing rapid urbanization are unable to provide an active lifestyle due to poor infrastructure, lack of education, cultural norms, and other important factors, and these demographic changes can lead to diseases. There is an alarming rise in urban diabetes, according to Cities Changing Diabetes, “…nearly two thirds of the 382 million people with diabetes live in cities. If this trend continues, by 2035 as many as half of billion people will have diabetes”. The city lifestyle is inactive but there is a solution: urban planning.
I’m a 27 year-old woman living in Los Angeles and I was diagnosed pre-diabetic in early December. I admit, my lifestyle is not as active as it should be. I stopped exercising, my eating habits changed negatively, and I spend more time commuting than ever before. I began working for Alta Planning + Design in September, and I realized that not only should elected officials, health advocates, and non-profit agencies be at the vanguard to fight this epidemic but designers, architects, engineers, and urban planners can help shift these trends too.
- The prevalence of type 2 diabetes is 13 percent higher in men than women in California
- Obesity is a strong risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Obese adults have a 4x higher risk of type 2 diabetes compared to normal weight adults in California.
- The percent of adults in Californians with diabetes is almost 2x higher in those with family incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level compared to those whose income is 300% above.
- The recently released National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2014 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that 29.1 million people, or 9.3% of the U.S. population, now have diabetes —many of whom do not know they have the disease.
- If current trends continue, as many as one out of every three U.S. adults will have diabetes by the year 2050.
Type 2 diabetes is preventable by healthy eating and physical activity. With our expertise in bicycle and pedestrian planning, Alta is helping fight diabetes by creating active communities in metropolitan cities like Los Angeles. The following are projects that Alta is working on in Los Angeles County:
- Los Angeles Bicycle Plan
- Las Virgenes-Malibu Regional Bicycle Master Plan
- South Bay Bicycle Master Plan
- San Gabriel Valley Bike Master Plan
- County of Los Angeles Bicycle Master Plan
- City of Bell Bicycle Master Plan
- Safe Routes to School Pilot Program
These bicycle master plans are making Los Angeles a livable city by integrating wider and functional sidewalks, incorporating bike tracks and bike-sharing facilities, by creating open spaces, improving air quality by minimizing traffic, and educating the public about healthier alternatives other than driving. Alta is also working on creating access to active transportation options in lower income communities. The Metro Safe Routes to School Pilot Program targets 10 disadvantaged schools that seeks to improve safety for children and public health. The pilot program encourages children to bike or walk to school and become part of their communities.
Although Type 2 diabetes has drastically increased in our communities, let’s not be pessimistic—urban planning for active transportation is one solution to prevent this disease. Active transportation is a vital component of California’s transportation and mobility needs, aiding in the reduction in traffic congestion, greenhouse gas emissions, and chronic disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, incorporating 30 minutes of physical activity into everyday routines significantly reduces the risk among adults of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
Cities are also full of amazing professionals and advocates that care about the advancement of their communities and future generations. We also have outstanding landscape architects within Alta like Greg Maher, designers like Emily Duchon, James Powell, and Erin Feehily, and planners like Ryan Johnson, Rodrigo Garcia, and Mark Seinen who are passionate about transportation planning and its attractive and healthier alternatives.