“A healthy, active city recognizes the value of active living, physical activity and sport. It provides opportunities for physical activity and active living for all.”
— From the 2008 World Health Organization report, “A Healthy City is an Active City”
One of the great things about living in St. John’s is the abundance of opportunity to enjoy free recreational activities in the great outdoors.
There’s the ambitious hike around the gnarly knolls of Signal Hill, and the tree-shaded Rennies River Trail complete with gurgling stream.
You can stroll around Kenny’s Pond and look for sandpipers, or watch for loons and otters along the trail at Kent’s Pond. The tree-dappled Virginia River Trail takes you through richly scented woods with glimpses of lake, river and spectacular waterfalls.
You can test the strength of your knees on the challenging climb to the top of Sugarloaf and enjoy the spectacular view of Quidi Vidi Gut and see all the way out to sea — and, this year, plenty of icebergs — or you can jog around Quidi Vidi Lake and watch the waterfowl.
And, at the lake, there’s heavy-duty outdoor fitness equipment for adults — albeit it’s beginning to rust and some pieces are in need of repair.
The west end has its own diversions, including the birch-lined trek along the Waterford River and the labyrinthine trails of Bowring Park.
So on long summer days like we’ve been experiencing lately, there are many ways to stay physically active and enjoy the beauty of nature, and the same is true in most communities in the metro area.
It feels great to get your blood pumping, to hear birds singing and to see people of all ages out enjoying the warm weather and doing their darnedest to stay fit.
The problem is, that good thing comes to an end as soon as winter arrives.
And while no one wants to think of snow at this time of year — particularly after the Godzilla winter we’ve just been through — the pleasure of summer in this city is always tainted with the nagging knowledge that it’s a fleeting thing.
And when winter blows in, that new-found feeling of physical freedom can be severely curtailed.
If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t enjoy the gym or can’t afford to join one, or who has any sort of mobility impairment, winter in St. John’s can be pure punishment.
With the first heavy snowfall, sidewalks are clogged and walking might as well be actively discouraged. Side-stepping traffic and having to climb up snowbanks to avoid being run down is not for the faint of heart.
For people not fit or mobile enough to strap on snowshoes or skis and find some open space, even a quick trip to the corner store can be treacherous, and shovelling snow might be the only option for outdoor exercise — and not everyone can manage that.
At a public consultation session held last month as part of the capital city’s review of its snowclearing service, residents expressed frustration and apprehension about having to navigate unsafe sidewalks and snowed-in streets.
Andreae Callanan, a mother of four, said walking the streets of St. John’s in the winter is downright frightening.
“I’m concerned that either I’m going to see one of my children get killed, or they’re going to see me get killed,” she said. “That’s what I worry about when I go outside my house.”
Anne Malone, who is legally blind and uses a guide dog, said her quality of life has declined directly as a result of inadequate snowclearing.
“If the city is not worried about an eventual human rights class-action suit, they damn well should be, because it is absolutely intolerable here if you live with a disability, particularly in the city,” she said.
“It’s like your life sucks, and that’s the truth.”
I hope city officials pay attention, because that message never really seems to penetrate the walls of the bunker that is city hall.
This is an issue that should not melt away with the ice and snow.
People of all ages and mobility levels want to be as active and as independent as they can be, all year round.
We’re talking quality of life, and that directly affects the decisions people make.
Many folks, whether they have young children in school or want to stay active in their retirement, take into account things like whether or not sidewalks are cleared in winter when deciding where to live.
And as the World Health Organization notes in the report quoted at the beginning of this column, municipalities have to take steps to foster a healthy, vigorous population.
“Municipal transport planners and staff are key to developing and maintaining opportunities for (walking and cycling), discouraging car use and improving road safety,” it says.
“Improve walkability, especially in areas where older people live: provide well-maintained sidewalks, benches for resting, adequate lighting and shaded and attractive streetscapes. … In cities in cold climates, ensure that sidewalks are clear of ice in winter.”
It’s not rocket science, but it does make all the difference when you are able to be physically active and mobile all year long, and not just during our four or five months of non-winter.
It also makes for a healthier population.
And while it’s been great lately to see the city replacing and repairing sidewalks, you can’t help but wonder how long you’ll be able to use them before they disappear again.
Pam Frampton is a columnist and The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.