Traverse City's Road To Health
By Beth Milligan | Jan. 7, 2019
There’s a movement afoot to improve the health of the Grand Traverse region, and it might begin by reimagining Traverse City’s Eighth Street as a “health district” — an area designed to promote walking, biking, and connections to the outdoors and healthy activities.
As Patrick Sullivan writes in this week's Northern Express — sister publication of The Ticker — reconstruction of the highly traveled east-and-westbound corridor will begin later this year. The city is re-engineering that section of road to make it narrower for vehicle traffic while adding room for bikes and trees and constructing well-marked crosswalks. The larger vision of turning the corridor into a health district, which is being spearheaded by the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation (GTRCF), is more abstract and part of a larger effort to give the region a national reputation as a healthy lifestyle oasis.
Debra Graetz M.D., whose medical office is already in the corridor, is an enthusiastic supporter of the plans. She says a health district doesn’t mean there will be a lot of doctor’s offices; rather, it means it will be a good place for biking, walking, and safely crossing the street, and there will be lots of trees and greenspace. “Right now, Eighth Street is like a dead-end barrier — children can’t get across,” Graetz says.
A lot goes into health and well-being, says Jesse Wolff of GTRCF, adding that improving the health of a community means more than just improving access to medical care, which he says accounts for just 20 percent of a person’s health profile. Wolff believes solving the region’s affordable housing problem should be one of the first steps taken to improve the region’s health; it’s also why the Eighth Street Health District should include affordable housing, he says. It may be counter-intuitive, but without good, affordable housing, achieving other health goals becomes very hard. Another priority in addressing health in the region will be looking at the lifestyle end of the equation. Statistics show some northern Michigan counties suffer from high rates of substance abuse and obesity.
There is no magical or simple way to solve these problems, but the creation of a health district would be a start, because it would be a place that through its design and composition would encourage people to lead healthier lives by walking and biking more and having better access to parks and trails, Wolff says. “If a health district was created, if we were able to make it a showcase destination, as a symbol of our community commitment to health and well-being, that would be really cool,” Wolff says.
Read more about plans to redesign Eighth Street as a health district in this week's Northern Express story "The Road to Health." The Northern Express is available to read online, or pick up a free copy at one of nearly 700 spots in 14 counties across northern Michigan.