The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has awarded a $360,000 grant to Tulane University’s Prevention Research Center (PRC) as part of the foundation’s Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities Initiative. The money will be used in conjunction with the PRC’s KidsWalk coalition, whose mission is to increase physical activity for kids and families by providing an environment that facilitates walking and biking.

“What we understand is changing a mindset or culture means changing the environment,” says Kathryn Parker-Karst, PRC’s assistant director. “So to do that you need a broad coalition of stakeholders such as planners and engineers along with parents.”

The coalition is made up of members from a number of local organizations including the Recovery School District, the city’s Public Works Department, the Regional Planning Commission, Louisiana Safe Routes to School Program, PRC and the University of New Orleans.

Parker-Karst says the coalition will fund a position within New Orleans Public Works Department, and this person will focus on identifying high priority areas in the city that could incorporate improved sidewalks and bike paths into ongoing urban planning. Under the federally-funded South Louisiana Submerged Roads Program as well as New Orleans streetscape projects, a number of the city’s neighborhoods and main roadways will be reconstructed and renovated.

The Louisiana Public Health Institute and the Entergy Foundation already pay for a planning engineer within the public works department, and Parker-Karst says by adding another position, it will help increase the focus on creating more pedestrian-friendly areas in the city. Parker-Karst adds that the coalition wants to hire a person with a background in urban planning, engineering background and community organizing.

RWJF selected PRC’s application from a pool of more than 500 proposals, and New Orleans is one of 41 sites chosen for the initiative. In New Orleans, approximately 20 percent of the population is under 18, and 33.5 percent of high school students are either overweight or obese.

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