Oakland County: Healthy communities are not a priority

First Lady Michelle Obama has kicked off a national campaign to fight childhood obesity which helps tie sprawl to unhealthy living.

In my home, we weren’t rich. The foods we ate weren’t fancy. But there was always a vegetable on the plate. And we managed to lead a pretty healthy life.

Many kids today aren’t so fortunate. Urban sprawl and fears about safety often mean the only walking they do is out their front door to a bus or a car. Cuts in recess and gym mean a lot less running around during the school day, and lunchtime may mean a school lunch heavy on calories and fat. For many kids, those afternoons spent riding bikes and playing ball until dusk have been replaced by afternoons inside with TV, the Internet, and video games.

Similarly, the U.S. Surgeon General released a report stating:

The car-dependent design of our communities has made it much harder for our children to walk to school and much harder for us to shop and do other errands entirely on foot or by bicycle.

Recommendations include:

  • Build or enhance infrastructures to support more walking and bicycling.
  • Support locating schools within easy walking distance of residential areas.

Now contrast that with Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson’s archaic position on sprawl:

Well, let me state it unequivocally: I love sprawl. I need it. I promote it. Oakland County can’t get enough of it. Are you getting the picture?

Then in his 2010 state of the county address, Patterson said he’d allocate $50K per year from the Brooksie Way run to healthy living mini-grants:

I want Oakland County to be the healthiest county in the United States and I want my residents to enjoy a healthy quality of life.

So, mayors, supervisors, community leaders, there is $50,000 available to you for programs which have as their sole purpose the improvement of the health of your residents.

Patterson clearly doesn’t understand the connection between sprawl, obesity and unhealthy living.

In the first such national study, health researchers found that people who live in counties marked by sprawl-style development tend to weigh more, are more likely to be obese and are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure

As for his $50,000 program, keep in mind that Oakland County gives $1 million a year to the Road Commission for Oakland County to build and expand roads.

Improving Oakland County’s quality of life is clearly in the backseat, if not the trunk.

And we are getting the picture.

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5 Responses to “Oakland County: Healthy communities are not a priority”

  1. Dave H Says:

    I had not seen that quote about sprawl from Mr. Patterson before. That’s depressing. Communities won’t be able have much impact on overall community health with $1,000-$2,000 mini-grants (let alone prove that they are having any impact). As he pointed out in that same speech, the county saved $4 million in health insurance payouts because of the OakFit Wellness program for county employees – where’s that money? Roads? Sprawl?

  2. Todd Scott Says:

    There are even examples where the County has agreed to help subsidize sprawl through an misuse of tax increment financing. One project in particular will likely be a brownfield within our generation. It arguably didn’t create jobs, but pulled existing ones further from the urban core.

  3. Bill Mullan Says:

    Mr. Patterson has made it a priority in his administration to improve the health of Oakland County residents.

    His Count Your Steps program challenges Oakland County students to record as many steps as they can during the month of March. Since its inception, these kids have walked the equivalent to more than two dozen times around the Earth.

    Patterson’s Brooksie Way Half Marathon and 5k Race is quickly becoming one of the largest-attended running events in Michigan. Last year, 4,400 people participated.

    There is the OaklandEdge Hockey Tournament at Onyx Arena in Rochester. As many as thirty teams of amateur players will play hockey in April. Plus, at the recent Fire and Ice Festival in Rochester, there were plenty of outdoor physical activities such as ice skating.

    The Brooksie Way Mini-Grant program… while the grant amounts may seem small… will be an impetus for more programs to spring up. And as a previous blogger acknowledged, the OakFit program is a huge success for the county.

    Another priority for Mr. Patterson has been to develop a “world class park system.” By having beautiful parks, families are choosing to get outdoors and be active with many of the programs offered through Oakland County Parks.

    I believe you would be challenged to find a Michigan politician doing more to address the health of residents.

  4. Bill Mullan Says:

    Here is a copy of County Executive Patterson’s original column on urban sprawl as it appeared in The Oakland Press on October 4, 2003:

    If you think four-letter words are dirty and nasty, how about that six-letter word: sprawl.

    To the doom and gloom crowd, “sprawl” ranks right up there with the plague, leprosy, and the French.

    Well, let me state it unequivocally: I love sprawl. I need it. I promote it. Oakland County can’t get enough of it. Are you getting the picture?

    Sprawl is not evil. In fact, it is good. It is the inevitable result of a free people exercising their cherished, constitutionally protected rights as individuals to pursue their dreams when choosing where to live, where to work, where to educate, and where to recreate.

    Let’s stop the hysteria and honestly ask ourselves what is sprawl? “Sprawl” is the unfortunate pejorative title government planners give to economic development that takes place in areas they can’t control. In reality, “sprawl” is new houses, new school buildings, new plants, and new office and retail facilities. “Sprawl” is new jobs, new hope and the fulfillment of lifelong dreams. It’s the American Dream unfolding before your eyes.

    Today, if a company pulls up stakes, abandons a suburban location and moves into the central city (often doubling or tripling the commute time for its employees), the anti-American Dream doom-and- gloomers call it “economic revitalization,” and they praise it.

    But if a company, a residential builder, or a family moves out into the suburbs, it’s condemned by the anti-American Dreamers. “It’s sprawl,” they hiss, “it’s bad.” They demand new laws be imposed turning local control over to state government planners charged with discouraging, containing, shutting down, stopping and reversing growth outside central cities.

    The anti-American Dreamers would have you believe that suburban growth is at the root of all problems that beset our cities, both in Michigan and across our country. They seem to believe that citizens left thriving cities, and that it was their departure that caused high crime, high taxes, invisible public services, and failing public school systems.

    Anybody who believes that line of thinking is taking denial to a whole new level. Sprawl did not cause the decline of the cities. Cities declined because they squandered their assets. High crime rates, high taxes, failing schools, foul air and a lack of open green spaces forced people to move.

    Sprawlers, like me, simply wanted a home with green grass on a safe, well maintained street, a quality neighborhood school that actually educated their children, a good job, nearby parks and recreational spaces, and a local government that actually delivers the services their taxes paid for. In other words, they wanted a place like today’s Oakland County.

    Some of the more disingenuous anti-Dreamers complain that we are blacktopping Oakland County. They claim that our farms and forestland is being gobbled up by developers, those nasty people who build single family homes instead of high density housing projects. They are concerned that Oakland County, and indeed all of America, will soon be one big Blockbuster parking lot. But the facts refute their hysterical myths.

    First, the truth is that any responsible examination of Oakland County’s robust, vital and life-sustaining development clearly shows that the sky is not falling. Oakland County’s satisfied residents, responsible business leaders, and the elected and appointed officials of our 61 cities, villages and townships have done a good job as stewards of Oakland’s 910 square miles.

    This is demonstrated by how we have developed our land resources.

    Check it out: single family homes, a primary goal for many families seeking their share of the American Dream, take up 38.5 percent of the total land in Oakland County. Vacant land is the next largest land use, at 13.6 percent. Recreation and conservation uses (permanently set aside) follow at 13.3 percent. Lakes and rivers take 5.9 percent of our land area; agriculture uses 4.2 percent, industry follows at 4.2 percent, public spaces use 3.8 percent, and commercial uses account for only 2.1 percent. (The remaining 13.4 of land use is made up of utility right-of-ways, railroads, and mobile home parks.) We have a balance of land uses that works!

    Secondly, according to readily available research, Michigan today is still 91 percent rural. And at the present rate of development, Michigan has a couple of millenniums left before it would be a totally urbanized state.

    What about the claim that America is being paved over? Well, the total land in the United States is 3.6 million square miles. Of that total land mass, some 126,000 square miles are considered urbanized. This means that less than 3.5 percent of America is “developed” urban area.

    Are the developers really gathering up all the farm land and forest acres for their own greedy purposes? Not hardly. Today there is more forested land in Michigan than there was 100 years ago. While the amount of land being used for farming is declining, it’s not primarily because of development, but rather because of improved productivity within the farming industry itself. Today, due to technological improvements, we grow and produce more products for market on substantially less land. In fact, a substantial percentage of our farming produce is now shipped overseas. We still easily feed ourselves as a nation.

    One final myth debunker: How much land do we have? Try this: if every man, woman and child in America were forced to relocate to the State of Texas, each of us would have 3/5 acre to call our own.

    So the next time you hear the word sprawl, embrace it. It simply means economic development. It means jobs. It means the freedom to choose. It translates into quality of life.

    And the next time somebody rubs your face in the word sprawl, take a long, hard look at that person. Too often you will see some limousine liberal who long ago fled our cities. Now, they want others to go back and take their place. They want to use the power of government to force you back into a city, or a neighborhood, or a housing type they chose not to live in themselves. They want to force you back to the city to help purge themselves of their perceived sin of abandonment.

    If you remember nothing else, please remember this: it’s all about the pronoun “it.” “It” is the subject of intense competition. “It” is the most sought after thing in the country. “It” is called economic development. If you don’t have “it,” and someone does, “it” is a bad thing called “sprawl.” Ask yourself, if “it” is so evil, why do they want “it” so badly that they compete for “it,” they give tax breaks to attract “it,” give incentives and create enterprise zones to secure “it?” You know the answer.

  5. Everett Says:

    Bill, while Brooks has done some good things, including keeping Oakland County relatively stable during this recession, his overarching urban plan for increasing sprawl is extremely self-serving and at best it is shortsighted.

    The efforts of our current and previous leaders in encouraging sprawl has lead to the demise of public transit and the sad state of our underfunded public infrastructure. (It could also be argued that it lead to car culture being overbuilt, in turn giving the car companies an economic monopoly in Michigan, thereby landing us in our current situation.) By encouraging sprawl, people are forced to travel by car everywhere. Not only that, but politicians must stretch every tax dollar to provide public services over a broader area for all taxpayers.

    Every single program that you credit to Brooks is purely recreational, lip service at best when DOT dollars are involved! Those fitness programs are fine for the weekenders, but fitness is achieved by working at it and having fun several days a week and not just Saturdays and Sundays. It also leaves out any option for alternative methods of daily transportation like walking, biking and public transit. It cannot be argued that any US city/urban region has achieved success by using public transit for fun.

    Sprawl may be fine if you are old, well-off, white and retired, but if you are young and want to work to bring some excitement back to the economy, you are going to move to Portland or Chicago or Austin. Michigan will be lucky if Ann Arbor can convince them to stay in the state, because Oakland County sure ain’t doing it!

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