Chicago, Ill.

Community is among 50 sites making changes in national initiative to prevent obesity.

Chicago is the nation’s third-largest city, with such diversity among its 2.8 million residents that no single ethnic or racial group has a majority. Though it is celebrated for many attractions, it suffers from significantly less parkland than other major cities. In low-income communities, the lack of green space is in addition to a paucity of full-service grocery stores. Both deficits greatly influence childhood obesity and other health problems.

The Logan Square Neighborhood Association is leading the Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities initiative here to improve access to healthy foods and safe places for children and families to play and exercise. A coalition of partners first will focus efforts in specific communities of color before expanding city-wide.

The project’s primary goals are to improve the safety of routes connecting neighborhoods to parks and parks to parks; increase access to healthy food in and around parks; and train and employ youth to serve as “healthy parks ambassadors.”

And leaders hope for even greater reach of the innovative Sunday Parkways initiative. Modeled after similar endeavors in Mexico, Colombia and Canada, the idea is to keep cars off miles of city boulevards on fair-weather Sundays so that pedestrians, bicyclists and general recreation enthusiasts can easily reach and enjoy parks.

“We’re working to help people reclaim the public space,” project director Lucy Gomez-Feliciano said.

Such partners as the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation and Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children have been striving for years on this front, advocating strategies to support non-motorized transportation, healthy eating and active living at the neighborhood level.

The average passerby won’t immediately see the progress made to date. The successes in working with various city agencies and training parent leaders “were not necessarily billboard issues,” as Lucy Gomez-Feliciano puts it. But they laid the groundwork for what now will be attempted, and she is optimistic about the future.

“The five communities in this program have a record of working together and accomplishing something,” she said.

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