This is a guest post by Christi Branscom and Kathleen Gibi.
As we got into the back of a taxi on a warm September morning in Washington, we had the following conversation:
Christi to the driver: “We need to get to the security check point to get into the White House.”
Kathleen: “That’s not something you say every day.”
Christi: “I was thinking the same thing!”
We had been invited to an all-day Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties (LMCTC) event organized by the National League of Cities at the White House to celebrate the 500 cities, towns and counties that have committed to building healthier communities by participating in LMCTC and working to achieve the initiative’s five goals.
The best thing about Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties is that it doesn’t reinvent the wheel. Rather, it reinforces, encourages, galvanizes and acknowledges what city leaders and community partners in many cases are already doing.
Celebrating Healthy Communities
Our morning at the White House began with breakout sessions for city leaders, staff and partners to share success stories and lessons learned. We also discussed the newly launched Let’s Move! All-Stars, a new set of advanced strategies for cities and counties that have achieved gold medals in all five LMCTC goals.
We enjoyed speaking to leaders from all parts of the country during lunch before having the honor of hearing First Lady Michelle Obama speak. We were thrilled when she mentioned Knoxville’s Kids Can Bike! and Walking School Bus programs as models for addressing childhood obesity.
This was the second time the First Lady has mentioned Knoxville and Knox County’s projects in a ceremony at the White House. The previous time was in 2013, when city of Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero spoke on a panel during the First Lady’s LMCTC celebration ceremony.
Both then and now, we returned home to excited, proud partners in our local programs. The First Lady’s accolades certainly gave us a few bragging rights, but more than that they provided an acknowledgement that our efforts actually play a concrete role in the national movement to turn around the childhood obesity epidemic.
Working Together to Achieve Goals
Knoxville and Knox County worked together to achieve the five goals of LMCTC, and the recognition of their shared achievements showed local leaders (who already excel at working together) that there is an exponentially greater impact on the health of Knoxville’s residents when we work in partnership.
Since we became involved in LMCTC, the energy of working together to achieve new goals only seems to grow. The Knoxville Childhood Obesity Coalition (which started the Kids Can Bike! program with Knoxville Parks and Recreation to offer free pedestrian bike safety courses and greenway rides) is now strategizing how to expand their efforts to the region beyond city of Knoxville and Knox County limits.
Knoxville Parks and Recreation released its new edition of its greenways map with the theme “Healthy Communities, Healthy Economy,” listing figures that substantiate greenways and parks as contributors to tourism, rising real estate values and healthcare cost reduction. For example, Knoxville’s recently conserved 1,000-acre Urban Wilderness, with 45-miles of trails and the developing river walk in South Knoxville, is credited with a significant increase in nearby housing sales in just a 30-month period.
The network of public advocates and community partners working to make Knoxville more pedestrian-friendly is rapidly growing. Mayor Rogero and the city council have recently set aside $2 million to build new greenways in addition to significant investment for sidewalks, bike lanes and crosswalk improvements.
As the First Lady said during her speech, this is “a movement on behalf of our kids’ health.” It’s our goal to keep Knoxville in the momentum of this movement, which, as it turns out, makes for a healthier overall community!
Knoxville partners are excited to take on the new All-Star Strategies. We’re fortunate to have Mayor Rogero encouraging and empowering us to pursue new goals to ensure an even healthier Knoxville.
About the Authors:
Kathleen Gibi is a public affairs specialist for the city of Knoxville, Tennessee.