Slow Roll

Published on September 12, 2018

By Kurt Waltenbaugh

Why is this so difficult?

Caught up in our work at Carrot Health to identify community barriers to health (social, behavioral, economic, environmental disparities that lead to increased health risk), I recently expressed frustration with the slow pace of change – the same frustration I hear from many in the health industry.

How can we move our customers, our community, towards health, faster?

Luckily, my favorite “Placemaker” – Tracy Nordstrom from http://verve.place – was there with an answer. Tracy & Verve work to build livable, healthy communities: “Placemakers are the change agents who power ideas – big and small – into action.  They ask ‘what if?’ and leverage passion, relationships, research, resources and stick-to-itiveness to make (and re-make) great places for people.”

“Join me this evening,” she said, “I’ll introduce you to Anthony Taylor, and we’ll take a Slow Roll through North Minneapolis.”

Minneapolis Northside

North Minneapolis is study in inequity. A population of 60,000 people, within the broader confines of the 410,000 people who live in the City of Minneapolis. Carrot Health’s data on this community is stark when compared to surrounding communities: 13 years lower life expectancy, 20% elevated risk of social isolation, 40% elevated risk of housing instability, 56% increased risk of food insecurity. Poverty rate of 36% vs 10% in the metro area as a whole. Unemployment rate is 4x that of the surrounding metro area. Medicaid enrollment rates nearly 4x the average for the metro area. Uninsured rates 3x higher.

Corresponding health spend is dramatic – per capita, this group spends far more than the statewide average.

MUCH different than 65 years ago.

“Turn the clock back to 1950,” says Mike Christenson, director of economic development for the city of Minneapolis. “You’re in a city that’s one third denser than this one – there are 526,000 people. West Broadway at Christmas looks like Bedford Falls. It has holiday trimmings that hang from both light posts up and down the block. Both sides are three stories high. Skelly’s Liquor and Friedman’s Shoes are at the gateway of West Broadway. There is no Highway (Interstate) 94 and there are no fast food restaurants with surface parking lots. That’s where West Broadway was in 1950: a healthy corridor clogged with useful business that provided goods and services to the people of North Minneapolis.”

https://www.minnesotabusiness.com/fierce-urgency-north

A great vision – we need to reclaim that vitality. Where do we start?

The Trailhead

We meet at the Trailhead – a brand new outdoor adventure center, in North Minneapolis’ Wirth Park. The Trailhead and associated Loppet Foundation work to create a shared passion for year-round outdoor adventure, focusing on underserved youth and families. Nordic skiing, mountain biking, orienteering, canoeing, adventure running, and more.

For more information on the Trailhead: https://www.loppet.org/the-trailhead/

Serving the community for the past 14 years, the Loppet Foundation has engaged more than 1,000 youth in outdoor enrichment annually. Studies show that these children will be a lower risk for chronic illness, be more focused & alert in school, eat healthier, and avoid many risky behaviors as they age.

All from spending time outdoors, engaging in aerobic activity.

Slow Roll

We find Anthony Taylor in a crowd, handing out and properly adjusting bike helmets (provided by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota – https://www.bluecrossmn.com/ ), making sure that bicycles are in working order, and sharing the rules of the ride: stay together, ride to the right away from traffic.

Anthony’s directive for the night: “Talk to someone you don’t know – make a new friend!”

Verve.Place profiles Anthony & the Major Taylor Bicycling Club, here: https://verve.place/blog-1/2018/2/22/anthonytaylor – excerpt:

For Anthony Taylor, building community starts by building capacity.

A lifelong athlete, Taylor’s build is solid; his conversational tone focused, precise, strategic – apt qualifiers for a former football player-turned-cyclist, and fitting for someone who invites social change, one neighborhood at a time.

The Slow Roll is his start: “Slow Roll is a bike ride, not for cyclists, but for regular people to discover their neighborhoods“.  Anthony notes that community reclamation is what a Slow Roll evokes, and individual visions expand:  “The magic of biking is the amount of territory you can cover in an hour.  Geography opens up:  a car puts you through the community, a bike puts you IN the community.”

Historically, Anthony notes, matters of transportation have not been equitable.  In Minneapolis, as elsewhere, institutionalized practices of redlining, political gerrymandering, and covenant communities intentionally separated people into white neighborhoods and black neighborhoods. Those physical and “psychographic” boundaries served to keep people in or out of specific communities, magnifying opportunities for some and inequality for others. 

“Biking breaks down those barriers,” Anthony says.  “On a bike, we cross boundaries, we see how our neighborhoods are connected.  Connectivity is what matters and mobility is the ultimate expression of personal freedom.  If we can get communities of color to lead the charge for more opportunities to ride, for more bike infrastructure where they live, we build ownership and agency…

We begin to change history.” 

For more information on Major Taylor Bicycling Club: http://www.majortaylorminnesota.org/

Health

Exactly how does Slow Roll help? Literally everywhere.

Nearly every aspect of community & individual health is improved through a neighborhood bike ride. Some examples:

  • Fitness – of course; the easiest benefit to measure; teaching people to access the world on a bicycle, providing equipment, making them feel comfortable on the road begins improving health from day one
  • Transportation – increased mobility and access to resources, especially for those without cars
  • Safety, crime, walkability – taking back the streets promotes visibility in the community, which serves to reduce crime and increase safety for others while walking and biking.
  • Education – youth who exercise are more focused in class and show better outcomes relative to their peer groups; these benefits show up in lower risk of illness, and reduced health care spend
  • Social isolation – making bonds and connections across the community has residual benefits across the health spectrum
  • Community engagement – this goes hand in hand with social isolation; stronger communities are healthier communities, all across the nation. Stronger communities support each other through health crisis, and reinforce healthy behavior in all walks of life.
  • Substance abuse – Exercise, community involvement, decreased social isolation all have positive impacts on rates of smoking, alcohol, and other substance abuse
  • Mental/behavioral – positive health impacts due to fitness – there is excellent research on this topic, see an example here: http://betterbikeshare.org/2017/01/31/medical-centers-prescribing-bike-share-mental-health/

Ultimately, a simple concept like a Slow Roll leads to improvements on ALL outcome measures: lower mortality, lower morbidity, increased life expectancy, lower health care expenditures, and more. Bike transit itself promotes health: https://www.minnpost.com/second-opinion/2018/08/cycling-offers-greater-health-benefits-other-forms-urban-transport-study-find

Route

Our 8.4 mile route takes us through the park, along Bassett’s Creek, through the Harrison Neighborhood, to the Cedar Lake Bike Trail. Along the trail to the Mississippi River, up Plymouth Avenue through the heart of the North, back to Wirth Park and the Trailhead. I estimate 35 people join, all ages – young children, elders – and people from many communities: geographic, gender, racial – all blended together into a several block long parade of color, conversation, and community.

We stop at the corner of Plymouth Avenue North & Penn Avenue North for a break, and conversation with Jamil Ford – a local man turned architect. He spends 15 minutes showing off the newly developed intersection – new Minneapolis Urban League building, new Estes Funeral Chapel, and new Thor Companies HQ. The buildings are designed to increase neighborhood walkability, reduce the impact of street traffic, and promote the community they serve. When complete, the buildings become a focal point, provide employment, and revitalize the street.

The community is enthused – as one rider said, with the infusion of capital, they are taking back their neighborhood, one intersection at a time.

Conclusion

At the end of a 2 hour long ride, we return in the deepening twilight to the Trailhead. Food is waiting, prepared by Youth Farm (a Minneapolis non-profit that farms to grow food, community, and leaders. They engaged over 2,500 youth & community members in 2017 through school and summer programming – http://youthfarmmn.org/ ). The team has piles of healthy food choices laid out for the riders: salad, roast chicken, dried seaweed, almonds, sweet potatoes, fresh grapes & bananas.

Anthony believes every ride should end with a meal – bringing the community together however briefly before we go our separate ways. People ate, laughed, exchanged contact information, and scheduled times for coffee or lunch with new found friends. Many stayed until lights out as the Trailhead closed for the night.

The lesson is clear – building community, impacting health is not hard. The financial commitment to building a Slow Roll is not a high bar; the commitment to reaching out to your neighbors is the key.

How can we help?

The ride was revitalizing for me personally – the work we do at Carrot Health to highlight need and measure impact can and is being met by a response. Change is coming, from all sorts of corners.

My Challenge to You

Find the Anthony Taylor in your own neighborhood.

BE the Anthony Taylor in your own neighborhood!

Help fund a gathering. Join the ride.

Your community will thank you.

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