The Path to Active Living

Physical Activity Through Community Design in Somerville, Massachusetts

This article examines the work of the Somerville Active Living by Design Partnership. The authors report on the partnership between Active Living by Design (ALbD) and community organizations and assess the key successes and challenges of the project.

Somerville, Mass., is a diverse, densely-populated city just outside of Boston. Almost half of fourth graders in Somerville are overweight or obese. Active Living by Design was able to build upon a history of collaborative efforts in Somerville to pursue improved walking, biking and other active-living resources.

Key Findings:

  • Since 2005, members of the Shape Up Task Force, the umbrella active living organization in Somerville, have received over $2 million for active living work. The city of Somerville itself has received $2.5 million for built and physical environment improvements.
  • The city of Somerville institutionalized the position of bike/pedestrian coordinator by providing for it in its budget. Somerville's department of Traffic and Planning dedicated $100,000 to improving crosswalks. Bike lanes were created and bike racks placed around the city. The Task Force's efforts led to the creation of walking paths, parks and other green spaces.
  • Key challenges involved setting realistic goals and recognizing that active living improvements take significant time and money. It was particularly difficult to engage foreign-language speaking residents in Active Living projects without a dedicated staff member.

Active Living by Design was able to spur numerous active living improvements in Somerville, in part because of the presence of strong, collaborative community organizations. Major challenges included setting and executing realistic goals, finding political champions and involving non-English speaking residents in active living projects.

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