The Opposite of the Freshman Fifteen
My last post delved heavily into my personal struggles with food and fitness, and as I was writing I wondered what application all of that would have regarding the rest of my writing, which is typically centered on issues of urban livability and access to equitable transportation. But as I stepped on a scale this past week to discover I had already gained more than 10 pounds since finishing my Master’s degree this spring, a light bulb came on.
Food and fitness are just as much about the built environment as are buildings, street trees, and transit. You see, college campuses are a microcosm of what many urbanists strive to create in existing cities throughout the developed world. They typically have some, if not all, of the following features:
- A high concentration of pedestrian traffic
- Limited and/or low-speed vehicular access through the core
- A mix of uses (educational, employment, retail/food, residential/dorms)
- A strong network of sidewalks (and sometimes bike infrastructure)
- High levels of activity throughout the day
- Centrally located green spaces
- Higher density of employment and residences
- Transit access (either campus-only service or connectivity to an area-wide system)
For me, my time on college campuses has been more active than my time away from school. I walked between buildings and to transit. I spent less time at a single desk, daydreaming about the next morsel of food I could ingest. I jogged to get out of the rain or to catch a bus (sometimes unsuccessfully). A well-equipped gym was located within walking distance.
Today, I am back to driving. I drive to work, so that I can sit at a desk. I drive to lunch, then back to work. I drive to the gym. I even have to drive to access a decent park. And, all of this is driving me to eat.
Now don’t get me wrong here. I’m not blaming all 10 of those pounds on the environment. I am still ultimately responsible for every calorie I consume. I mean, how else would I explain the many other current and former college students who succumb to the Freshman Fifteen in spite of living in these urban oases? Yet, I still can’t help but agree with the mounting evidence that unwalkable places are more to blame for our obesity epidemic than we’ve given credit for.