Conservation Minnesota

Protected Land Helps Minnesotans Get Fit

Erika Block“The cornerstone of the low-carbon city, far more than any particular green design or technology, is the priority given to public affluence over private wealth… public affluence – represented by great urban parks, free museums, libraries and infinite possibilities for human interaction – represents an alternative route to a rich standard of life based on Earth-friendly sociality.”

Mike Davis writes the above in “Who Will Build the Arc?” while discussing the inherent possibilities that a city possesses in creating a sustainable future – a vastly different outlook of modern cities today that emit 70 percent of global greenhouse gases and have high levels of wealth inequality. Davis argues that communal resources used by everyone in an eco-friendly manner is the key to combating sustainability issues in today’s society. I would like to think that this logic applies to other aspects of societal well-being as well.

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On May 29, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) released the American Fitness Index (AFI) report that ranks the nation’s largest metropolitan areas, Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), on personal and communal health standards. The annual report was first released in 2008 with an aim “to help improve the health of the nation by promoting active lifestyles by supporting local programming to develop a sustainable, healthy community culture.” For the third year in a row, the Twin Cities were deemed the healthiest area in the United States after analyzing MSA data of the population, health and built environment of the community.

The ACSM first decided to compile the information after public health experts agreed that creating a culture that embraces physical activity into our daily lives would ultimately improve Americans’ overall health and enhance quality of life. While personal decisions are crucial to an individual’s health, these researchers believed that a built environment for the community with access to health care providers, required physical education classes in grade schools and availability of bike paths was equally important.

Bikers staying active on a trail at Crosby Farm Regional Park in St. Paul, a park protected by the Legacy Amendment.

Bikers staying active on a trail at Crosby Farm Regional Park in St. Paul, a park protected by the Legacy Amendment.

Surely, one approach to incorporate more physical activity into our lives is to utilize resources in a way that promotes this lifestyle by maintaining state parks, clean lakes and bike trails that are easily accessible to residents for recreational use. As part of the “built environment” measurement in the AFI report, the amount of park-related expenditures per capita was calculated. Not surprisingly, Minneapolis-St. Paul ranks fifth in this category behind Washington D.C., San Francisco, Seattle and Las Vegas by spending $227 per person in 2012 (the recommended target goal is $101.80 per capita). This relatively high amount of money spent on the Twin Cities’ parkland is definitely not by accident.

In November 2008, the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment passed in Minnesota, which dedicated funding to protect, among other environmental and cultural projects, the state’s parks and trails. Currently, 14.25 percent of the Amendment’s sales tax revenue is dedicated to these communal spaces, equaling $39 million in fiscal year 2011. This money is used for ongoing maintenance, to connect trails for commuters and to preserve natural resources.

Minnesotans bike, run, hike and walk on these protected parks and trails. Indeed, the Amendment has proven to serve more than the state’s environment – residents are taking control of their health by staying active on these scenic landscapes. Not to mention, getting the Twin Cities on the map as the fittest city in America.

Certainly, a communal space put to good use.

The complete 2013 American Fitness Index report can be found here.

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