Feature Article - September 2010
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Kids Get Active

After-School Programs to the Rescue

By Deborah L. Vence

Political Influence

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that children get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day—yet another reason why recess and physical education classes are so important.

Nancy Somerville, CEO of Washington-based American Society of Landscape Architects [ASLA], said her organization is an advocate of increasing kids' access to play and recreation areas and parks.

"It's important for communities to be designed to provide safe access. Advocacy on the legislative front, the Urban Revitalization and Livable Communities Act (URLC) and the No Child Left Inside Act haven't passed yet. They were introduced during the last Congress, but that's another piece of legislation that both gets them outdoors so they have recreational opportunities and provides environmental opportunities," Somerville said.

The URLC Act came about a number of years ago—out of the Urban Parks and Recreation Recovery Act, UPARR—which essentially was federal aid to help cities to restore existing parks, keep them upgraded or create new ones, with a focus on the urban areas.

"In a lot of ways, the URLC Act picks up where that left off. We're better informed. We know now more than we did 10 years ago about the link between community design and access to parks and obesity for children and people of any age group," she said.

"Legislation really takes off on the critical nature of that need. Ten or 20 years ago, when the UPARR legislation was not continued and it died, the attitude among public policy makers was that it's nice, but not critical. The data we know now about physical exercise and access to the outdoors is that it's a necessity; it's not a luxury," Somerville added.

In addition, Complete Streets legislation currently is being adopted across the country and making its way through Congress, and is critical to providing opportunities that incorporate walking and biking into daily activities.

"Complete Streets is about planning for bicycles, alternative forms of transportation, when you are defining and designing neighborhoods," she said.

Somerville added, "All of the research shows that human beings are hard wired to respond to nature. We are more productive if we get out in the landscape or look out into a place that's landscaped. Research has shown that people in the hospital heal faster and have shorter stays if their window looks out on an area that's landscaped. We're calmer, everything about our physiology responds better to the great outdoors."