A few years ago, Susan Cooper wanted to move the Newport farmers market from a park on Bellevue Avenue to a grassy area off Memorial Boulevard that sits closer to downtown, a bus line and a public-housing complex. The move, Cooper thought, would encourage more residents to buy local, eat healthy and walk to the market, thereby encouraging exercise and reducing car congestion.
But Cooper, the city’s recreation director, soon encountered a problem. The state controlled the property as a right-of-way and the city needed to hammer out an agreement for the market to use the land.
“What I thought might take us a month took us three or four” months, Cooper said.
The market eventually moved to the spot but Cooper learned that reams of local ordinances and state laws can undermine health initiatives just as much as a mouth-watering cupcake.
The federal government and state have also arrived at that conclusion. By early April, the R.I. Department of Health aims to award $225,000 grants to three communities looking to align their municipal codes and policies with initiatives such as encouraging healthy eating or exercise.
The state program, coined the Healthy Places by Design Project, attracted nine applicants, including Newport, said health department spokesman Peter Hanney. The department has broken the applicants into three categories – urban, suburban and rural – and one in each group will receive a grant.
The communities in the urban category are East Providence, Newport, Pawtucket and Woonsocket; in the suburban category are Bristol, North Kingstown and Warren and in the rural group are North Smithfield and South Kingstown.
“The goal for this is for the communities to implement changes to local policies in support of physical activity and access to healthy food,” Hanney said.
And Rhode Islanders could do better in those categories. Citing figures from the Centers for Disease Control, Hanney said only 49 percent of Rhode Island adults engage in regular physical activity and 42 percent of high school students exercise the recommended amount.