Alex Schmidt (GOOD.is):
Like food deserts—areas where residents don’t have reliable access to fresh food—fitness deserts pose health challenges to millions of Americans, mostly low-income ones. A full 80 percent of census blocks do not have a park within a half-mile, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released last year. Studies have shown that these disparities exist in cities all over the country, including Chicago, San Francisco and Washington D.C., complicating efforts to fight obesity in poor communities.
David Sloan, a professor of urban planning at the University of Southern California, says the difference in fitness opportunities between affluent and low-income areas are stark. While wealthy West Los Angeles has 70.1 acres of recreation or green space per 1,000 people, low-income South Los Angeles has 1.2 acres per 1,000. Meanwhile, private gyms are much more common in the more affluent areas. The recession has made it even more difficult to rely on public parks for fitness and recreation, as public resources earmarked for those spaces dwindle.
There are many explanations for why the disparities exist: poor city planning in the 19th and early 20th centuries, allocation of resources to new development at county fringes rather than the urban core, and reticence on the part of corporate brands to enter poorer communities. The result is that many people in those neighborhoods don’t exercise at all, while others develop innovative ways of getting a workout.
Urban sprawl and urban planning is more than just about the environmental and structural opportunities to exercise, there is a pervasive importance in the community culture that is affected by the design of a community. An entire active lifestyle can be promoted under the right community design, in which social experiences and social capital can be built among communities who have opportunities to walk, play, work and exercise outdoors in their neighborhood.
(Infographic by: activelivingresearch.org)