Thank God for Mississippi and pass the fried chicken!

When I was growing up, I used to hear “Thank God for Mississippi!” for keeping Tennessee off the bottom of various lists: school funding et cetera. Now we have to thank the Magnolia State for keeping Tennessee from the top of the Most Obese State list.

Colorado (ahem) where I live, is the thinnest state. People have various reasons for obesity in the South, with Southern cooking high on the list of suspects. I would add three more: air conditioning and television and lack of suburban planning. The former two have been discussed ad nauseum, so I will not weigh in (so to speak) on that, but will spend a bit of time on planning.

I grew up in Colonial Heights, a middle class suburb of Kingsport, Tennessee that was laid out in the 1950s. Very often a 20- or 30-acre tract would be developed, and then an adjacent one, which meant that the traffic from the second cluster of homes then flowed through the streets of the first. And so on, and so on. You see this pattern all over Tennessee. Subdivisions grew up along country roads that were never designed to have a lot of traffic.

Almost none of the streets in Colonial Heights have sidewalks. There are no parks. The only open space is the land surrounding the school. Most parents, understandably, don’t want their children riding bikes on these streets, and anyone going for a walk has to be ready at any point to make a lateral jump into the ditch to avoid getting run over. Kids get used to being hauled wherever they want to go, and people who might be inclined to take a walk in the evening don’t want to risk getting flattened by someone talking on a cell phone and piloting a behemoth SUV.

It takes a strong city or country government to mandate sidewalks, bike paths, and parks when land is developed. It’s even harder to retrofit places like Colonial Heights with sidewalks. But the improvement in quality of life and overall health is worth it. Retrofitting existing suburbs make them more attractive and helps hold down sprawl–on the landscape as well as the waistband.

This blog is part of a much larger website, also entitled Tennessee Guy, that contains travel and cultural information about Tennessee. Visit it here.

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