A big city girl at heart, one of the things which I miss most about living in Manhattan is walking. In my erstwhile life as a New Yorker, and like most Manhattanites, I would very often venture into different neighborhoods on foot. Living in Puerto Rico, Plaza Las Américas (the mall) and Old San Juan are pretty much the only places in which I get to take my leisure strolls. Ever since a labrador retriever mix puppy entered into my life though, I have started to take more walks around my neighborhood. Although there are many dogs around where I live, I don't often see people take their canine out for some exercise. In the parking lot at the mall, cars would wait to take my spot even though there are spaces just 20 feet or so away. It's a tragic fact, but many people on the island abhor the idea of walking!
Condado and Ocean Park are perhaps the only two areas where I often see people run and take their dogs out for walks. In a place where year-round temperatures rarely dip below 70 degrees Farenheit, you would think that people would be active and lead less sedentary lives. However, the obesity rate in Puerto Rico is estimated to be 42%. Diabetes is said to be one of the leading causes of death on the island. Particularly worrisome is the 32% juvenile obesity rate, which is nearly double that of the mainland's. To confront this problem, an obvious solution is to promote and encourage people to adopt healthier lifestyles. Urban planning (or lack thereof) in most of the island's heavily populated areas have been less than adequate though. Puerto Rico lacks the large, public open spaces characteristic of cities like Chicago's beautiful Millenium Park. San Juan's Mayor, Jorge Santini, is hoping to change this though. He is proposing to make his city more pedestrian (as well as tourist) friendly.
Dubbing it, "The Walkable City Plan," Santini is aiming to convert parts of Old San Juan into car-free zones, including the construction of a light rail line. The project would not be completed until 2030 and is expected to cost taxpayers at least $1.5 billion dollars. To help garner support for this initiative, Santini is hosting an event in Old San Juan this Sunday to encourage people to put on their walking shoes. Bikes and skateboards are also welcomed at the Walkable City ("¡Puerto Rico Muévete!" Translation: "Puerto Rico Move Yourself!" ) event. It is certainly no easy feat to change the mindset of people, especially when it comes to their lifestyle. Just like the U.S, Puerto Rico is a car-driven culture. However, if given more choices and alternatives to the automobile, people will be more conscientious and choose a healthier way of life.
(The image above was obtained from www.prmuevete.org)