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January 25, 2006

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Ah, the urban form.
Tonight Sarah and I went to Town Hall for a presentation by her employer, Lawrence Frank. It was raining intermittently, seeming to come down hardest while we were waiting for the bus or walking. Well, we're just happy to live in a place where you can get around without a car--whether by bike, bus, or foot. Larry's research analyzes the connections between land use, transportation, and people's health. It seems fairly obvious: who and how healthy we are is shaped by our environmental options. People who live in walkable communities walk more and drive less and as a consequence are healthier. Larry's work, among other things, attempts to quantify the factors which make a place walkable, taking into account infrastructure, demographics, and, perhaps most important and hardest to chart, people's motives and preferences, which trend along lines of age and gender. It's sad and ironic that today's zoning laws which separate industrial, retail, and residential uses were begun in part to improve the general population's health by "moving people out of the shadow of the smokestack." But these divisions also encouraged automobile use by prohibiting stores and other services from setting up shop within areas zoned for residences only. It's all really simple or hugely complicated depending how you look at it. There are no ultimate points or bottom lines, but the plain truth is more people are obese now than ever before and the numbers keep growing.

if I knew then what I know now – I would not have gone ahead with the story as it was aired, and I certainly would not have used the documents in question