SOUND MIND, SOUND BODY - Nearby groceries a boon to urban areas

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City planners hold the future for successful and vibrant cities and towns. As cultural generations change, so have our cities and neighborhood streets. A new trend in town planning is centrally locating grocery stores amongst significant city buildings and neighborhoods. These new grocery stores serve as social hangouts that can be used for a variety of activities.

Many grocery stores are thinking " ;outside the box" to be smaller in size, more intimate with second-level cafes and featuring a wine and specialty cheese section. Examples include Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. Trader Joe's is funky, inexpensive and features only a few selections per product. Whole Foods is a desirable place to eat lunch, drink coffee, grocery shop and socialize. Many Whole Foods feature health-related programs such as yoga, meditation, chair massage, cooking classes and nutrition education.

Although national chain stores do have regulations on store designs, the actual store location can increase customers' desire to shop there. Planning studies have shown people are willing to walk the distance as long as the walk is scenic and interesting.

"Research indicates that 500 feet is, for nearly all able bodied people, an acceptable walking distance for routine purposes, and 40 percent consider 1,000 feet to be a reasonable walking distance. However these distances decrease in ominous settings and increase along stimulating urban streets," say Peter Medoff and Holly Sklar in "Streets of Hope: The Fall and Rise of an Urban Neighborhood."

Two great examples are located in the central part of Walla Walla. Rose Street Safeway, for example, is a block away from Main Street, Whitman College and residences. The conceptual layout incorporates an outdoor lounge area, Starbuck's Coffee and fresh sandwich and soup bar. Across town, Super One stands across the street from Jefferson Park and among residential neighborhoods. Although the store is on a busier road, the direct placement across from the park makes the store available for park users and nearby residents, who use the city park as the walking path to the store.

Walla Walla is fortunate to have stores near residential areas. In contrast, Detroit lacks adequate shopping in its urban core. As most people in Detroit are low-income, many can not afford transportation to and from strip mall grocery stores. In some instances, the nearest grocery store is three to 10 miles from home. These residents are in a "food desert," a neighborhood or region that only contains the local convenience store.

Instead of eating nutritious foods, these residents eat salty snacks, sodas, candy or other low-quality food for survival. Most of these neighborhoods do not provide walking paths, but instead a raised curbside adjacent to a hectic roadway and abandoned buildings.

Due to low-quality foods and inaccessible walking paths, Detroit and many other economically depressed cities suffer with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity and depression.

The overall quality of life is drastically different if you compare Detroit to cities such as Portland or Seattle, or Walla Walla.

Walla Walla walking allows feet and eyes to explore city parks, downtown streets, historic neighborhoods, college campuses and grocery stores. Walking to the grocery store is one more effective way to get moving. In addition, having locations in neighborhoods allows residents the opportunity to shop for healthy and nutritious foods.

Elizabeth Kovar has been working in the fitness industry since 2006 with international experience in India and Australia. She has a master's degree in recreation and tourism and is a programs coordinator at the YMCA where she trains, instructs fitness classes and assists in marketing projects. She welcomes questions and comments and can be reached at ekovar@wwymca.org.

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