Decatur has long sought to be a city where residents and visitors can move about easily without a car. Aside from the environmental benefits of being biker and pedestrian friendly, the city wants to promote the personal benefits for those who want to become fit or stay fit.
DeKalb’s county seat has decided to highlight this benefit with a community fitness campaign aimed at encouraging residents to get out and get moving. It’s even changed the name of what was once its parks and recreation department to the City of Decatur Active Living Department.
In addition to adding bike lanes, walking trails and sidewalks around the city to make it more pedestrian friendly, the city is also preparing to launch the “Walk There! Decatur” program. Among the newly conceived department’s innovations has been to measure distances between community activity centers around the city and translate the distances into steps that will be posted on signs to encourage people to consider walking instead of driving.
Greg White, interim director of City of Decatur Active Living, said that change in name and focus came in 2008, adding that he believes Decatur is the first city in the nation to have such a program. “We wanted to take the word recreation out of it and focus instead on active living. We still encourage participation in youth sports, but we also want to see people walk to and from the ball fields. We want to get people moving regardless of age. We’ve had community gardens all along, but we want people to walk to the gardens and socialize there while they grow healthful foods.”
White said his department collaborates with other departments and programs in promoting healthful lifestyles. “We work a lot with the school system,” he said “Safe Routes to School involves finding ways for children to safely walk or bike to and from school. We developed a week-and-a-half bike training program for fourth and fifth graders after we discovered that a lot of kids didn’t know how to ride a bike. We’re helping them form habits that we hope will last a lifetime.”
Mayor Bill Floyd, 63, a former marathon runner who often walks to work, said he is proud of the enthusiasm residents and city employees are showing for promoting active lifestyles. “It’s an opportunity to show people that anyone can maintain a healthy and active lifestyle with a little effort and some reinforcement and support from friends, family and co-workers. And that’s what this is all about,” he said.
Decatur has become the first community to sign on with what had been a corporate fitness activity, according to Floyd. The Kaiser Permanente Corporate Run/Walk & Fitness Program in past years had encouraged area businesses to form teams to participate in the annual walk. This year Team Decatur will be joining the mid-September event.
The city hosted an official kick-off celebration event for the program July 26 on the Decatur Square. Although lightning forced the city to shut down the event—scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m.—much earlier than planned, city officials say they still are looking forward to a variety events over the next eight weeks in preparation for the run walk.
To get ready for the Sept. 16 Kaiser Permanente Corporate Run/Walk Team Decatur members over the next eight weeks will receive fitness tips, training schedules geared for beginners or experienced walkers and runners, fitness related discounts and activities provided by local businesses, T-shirts and more.
Race director Jeff Galloway in a news release praised Decatur’s efforts. “I have never seen a city get behind something like this like the city of Decatur has,” he said. “It is truly inspiring and we hope that the city’s excitement will encourage other cities in the metro area to do the same.”