Collaboration is Changing the Way San Antonio is Encouraging Healthy Lifestyles

San Antonio, TX | January 2013 | By National Recreation and Park Association

Collaboration is Changing the Way San Antonio is Encouraging Healthy Lifestyles 410

Increasing physical activity is attributed often to two things: access and knowledge. For San Antonio, Texas, there is a third factor—collaboration—and it is changing the way residents are getting, and staying, active throughout the city.

As part of a comprehensive effort to reduce San Antonio’s high rates of obesity and diabetes, and promote healthy, long-term behavioral choices among residents, the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District (Metro Health) and San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA) created walking and biking trails at four public-housing sites with approximately 4,000 residents. The trails were designed to provide residents with safe, convenient environments for exercise and recreation.

The sites were chosen out of 61 possible locations, with a target focus on low-income families, seniors, and people with disabilities. Additionally, fitness stations were constructed at three of the four trails. To serve as many residents as possible, trail access was made available to the surrounding communities through a shared-use agreement.

The trails were created in conjunction with another Metro Health/SAHA initiative, Ride to Own, in which bikes were provided to working individuals residing in SAHA communities in an effort to increase physical activity and encourage alternative transportation. The program enhanced the need for safe, convenient areas for residents to use their bikes, unencumbered by cars and pets. To earn bikes, individuals were required to take a bicycle safety class and bicycle maintenance class, and log a specific number of organized community rides. 

After a successful pilot program, Metro Health partnered with SAHA to make 1,000 bikes available. An additional 216 bikes were made available through the San Antonio Parks and Recreation Department. 

Collaborative efforts continue to yield positive results across San Antonio. In a partnership with three area school districts, Metro Health is finalizing improvements on six school tracks, which are also available to the local communities through shared-use agreements. Additionally, Metro Park has partnered with San Antonio Sports to create joint-use SPARK parks (community fitness parks) at local schools. “We have seen an incredible willingness for the city [agencies] to work together in a way they have never done…and how critical it is to involve all these partners to make a difference in the health of the city” says San Antonio Metro Health.

The partners are conducting formal surveys to determine the overall impact of the trails and Ride to Own program; however, informal responses have been favorable. “People ride their bike to the bus stop, and some can put the bikes on buses and get to work. And so it kind of kills two birds with one stone. It increases activity, and it helps them with their work initiative” states Metro Health on the dual benefits of the Ride to Own program. New trails have been established by the park system to further promote bike use, and future plans including the creation of community walking and bicycling groups.