It’s a historic city that was New York’s first capital, a gateway city to the outdoor fun of the Catskill Mountains. Yet here on the banks of the Hudson River, Kingston is also a city trying to recast itself—as a community that helps its residents be physically active and healthy.
With nearly a fifth of its population of 24,000 living in poverty, and about 44 percent of youth obese or overweight, this aspiration will not be easy to achieve.
The challenge will be greatest in Midtown, home to many African-American and Latino families (who comprise about 22 percent of Kingston). This is an area with too few thriving businesses, too many empty warehouses and deteriorating, low-income neighborhoods. It is also the area most impacted by the four-lane thoroughfare that bisects the city.
Although Kingston boasts a variety of recreational resources, including a nature center and riverfront beach, Midtown only contains one small park and several small playgrounds, and many children cannot reach them without hazarding their way across the busy central thoroughfare of Broadway. The road has neither median strip nor bike lanes.
“Kids in Midtown can’t travel safely to parks, recreational centers, stores or even to school,” noted project director Kristen Wilson.
The initiative called A Healthy Kingston for Kids wants to eliminate the barriers that prevent youth from getting enough exercise by creating safe streets, sidewalks and protected bike lanes. Midtown will be a high priority for obvious reasons, but the initiative will work throughout the city. Kingston is not even three miles across at its widest point, making accessibility other than by car a very feasible prospect. In most neighborhoods, however, the built environment is less than encouraging. Kingston Point Park, which overlooks the Hudson River, can’t be reached by sidewalks, and a car is needed even for a rail trail just two miles from the city center.
The new work, with funding through Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities, will be led by the Cornell Cooperative Extension Ulster County in collaboration with the Kingston Parks and Recreation Department, the Kingston Land Trust, the Community Heart Health Coalition, Gilmour Planning and the Kingston City School District.
All see a coordinated, unified effort as key in a community with no comprehensive plan or ordinances supporting Complete Streets and smart-growth strategies. Over the next four years, the groups intend to tackle both planning and policy.
They also aim to reduce unhealthy snacks in after-school programs and to increase the availability of healthy foods by promoting the establishment of farmers' markets and community gardens. The city currently has no such gardens in its public parks.
The initiative will benefit from some recent momentum, including in Midtown, where an arts education center and a cultural center are on the horizon.
“We hope to have safe paths connecting cultural opportunities to parks, gardens and schools all over the city,” Wilson said, adding: “Kingston is a small place. We can make a big difference in the lives of the children living here.”