Does Health Philosophy Determine Planning?

Image of Oklahoma skyline

A recent editorial in The Oklahoman shows just how intractable and narrow minded some city leaders are when it comes to significantly improving the quality of life here.

The headline says it all: “More bad news on obesity, but government isn't the solution.”

Published July 12, the editorial cites a national report that shows Oklahoma is ranked at seventh in the nation with an obesity rate of 31.4 percent. The editorial goes through the report, says “no thanks” to a recommendation that everyone get screened for obesity and diabetes as part of a preventative medical effort and then ends with this typical caveat:

Getting out of it will take another generation, or more. But it will result from individuals making better choices about diet and exercise, not from government fiat.

Individual responsibility over community. Survival of the fittest—literally—over advocating common sense planning choices.

The Oklahoman doesn’t speak for all leaders here, but I think it’s fair to argue this particular, hands-off philosophy when it comes to health issues has contributed to some dubious distinctions for the state. Just recently, for example, the Oklahoma City area was named the most unfit metropolitan area among the nation’s largest 50 cities.

Obesity is not just an Oklahoma problem, of course, and these never-ending reports about our collective weight should not be used as a cudgel to embarrass anyone.

But the state, and especially the Oklahoma City area, needs more sidewalks, bike lanes, ball diamonds, soccer facilities and parks. It needs more swimming pools and jogging trails. People need to walk more and drive less. People need better access to medical care. These arguments are not part of some “government fiat.” They simple argue for better planning to improve the quality of life for everyone, even those in the best physical shape. Obviously, this has an impact on overall economic development as well, but it’s primarily small-business focused and doesn’t necessarily affect the area’s high rollers. That’s a major problem given the leadership dynamics in Oklahoma City.

Meanwhile, the editorial exposes a crass attitude that makes it terribly unsurprising the Oklahoma City Council has voted to move up the timeline in building the new convention center under the MAPS 3 project. The convention center will primarily benefit a segment of the business community here, though some city leaders dispute that, and will do nothing to improve the collective health here. When do we get the urban park, the biking and walking trails and the new street-car system, which are all part of MAPS 3 and would improve the collective health here? Let’s hope all city leaders, not just the handful who opposed moving up the timeline on the convention center, can get as enthusiastic about those life-affirming aspects of MAPS 3 as they can about hotel profits.

Calling Dr. Shadid!

He is the strongest voice by far on the city council highlighting these issues. OKC has been accidentally designed to reduce health. We need to think about how we go forward - companies will not relocate or stay if health costs are more expensive here.