In a past life, I led groups of up to 50 people on bike rides through Chicago as a contribution to the physical, mental, and financial health of African-Americans. I sought to intentionally lead riders through the wide variety of Black neighborhoods in the city, with a deep interest in supporting local businesses. After several rides, it became clear that accessing everyday goods and services by biking or walking was easier in some areas than others. When I participated in conversations around sustainable transportation, I was continuously asked the question, “How do we get more of the community (African-Americans) to bike?” My response was pretty much always the same, “Give people something to bike TO.”
Conversations about biking and walking often happen in silos with most of the emphasis on infrastructure, much less emphasis on education and encouragement, and barely any discussion of the economic development and principles of design that actually support biking and walking. In many of the majority Black neighborhoods in Chicago, parking comes first. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the difference in two recent Whole Foods Markets that were built over the past year in Hyde Park (at Hyde Park Boulevard and Lake Park Avenue) and Englewood (at 63rd Street and Halsted).
I intentionally sourced the above images from Google Maps to circumvent glossy images provided by developers or press. With a quick glance, one can see how access to these markets is drastically different and therefore encourage or discourage biking and walking. The World Health Organization outlines that development “should aim to provide compact form and mixed use to facilitate the promotion of healthy lifestyles (e.g.walkability).” Both Markets are located at major intersections for the commercial activity of their surrounding neighborhoods. However, the Hyde Park location lays a foundation for walkability (or bikeability) on almost all fronts as explicitly laid out by organizations like SPUR, while the Englewood location ignores all seven:
Moving forward, areas that disproportionately suffer from the chronic diseases that accompany sedentary lifestyles should work with local government and business interests to incentivize developers to build according to urban design principles. On a grassroots level, one could replicate the success of the Lakeview Area Master Plan for its incorporation of urban design principles and its process of bringing together sustainability professionals and community influencers to illuminate the connections between planning/architecture and quality of life.