As designers and planners continue to recognize the health impacts that our built environment has on human populations, new strategies are being deployed to create places where the "healthy choice is the easy choice." This is particularly important for communities where, due to socioeconomic circumstances, the public health odds are already stacked against residents. In Seattle, SvR and the rest of the design and development team behind Seattle Housing Authority's (SHA's) Yesler Terrace redevelopment were keenly aware of these challenges, and promoted "healthy eating and active living (HEAL)" opportunities throughout the design process.
In early discussions with SHA and the design team, nonprofit organizations and public health officials discussed Yesler Terrace’s cultural diversity, affordability, and high populations of senior and child residents, emphasizing the importance of active spaces to help combat health issues like obesity and diabetes. All stakeholders agreed that the existing parks’ sizes and programming did not meet the needs of the anticipated population of the neighborhood. The Green Street Loop, a 1/2-mile circuit that links three pocket parks to a larger neighborhood park, helps fill this gap by creating a visible and cohesive pathway to neighborhood destinations. The Loop also became an important platform for meeting the neighborhoods' public health goals.
In addition to enhanced pedestrian amenities, larger trees and public art along the Loop, there are 8 "activity zones," each with at least one fitness station and a bench. The activity zones are equally distributed along the Loop, and the fitness equipment at each zone was selected to accommodate a range of ages and skill levels to make it easier for everyone to engage in healthy activity. From pull up bars to sit up benches to free runners, the activities provided offer a complete workout and encourage circulating around the neighborhood.
The Loop was not only designed for physical health, but also to encourage a vibrant public realm that promotes economic development, increases safety by inviting more eyes on the street and breaks the cycle of social isolation that can beset recent immigrants and the elderly. Also arrayed around the Loop and throughout Yesler Terrace's streets are "pause places," which provide space to pull off the main path of travel to sit, lean, park a bike, wait for public transportation or catch one’s breath while navigating the steep terrain. Pause places are smaller than the activity zones, but are offered more frequently - approximately every 100 feet - on both sides of the street.
Creating a public realm that promotes physical activity will not only serve Yesler Terrace residents. Creating a socially and physically active streetscape could prove a powerful prescription for public health practitioners as our nation searches for ways to make preventative health care a daily part of our lives.