AARP is working to make two of Alabama’s most beautiful tourist destinations healthier and safer places to visit and live. The communities of Orange Beach and Gulf Shores were recently selected for an “active living workshop” and pilot project designed to build healthy communities by applying the principles of active transportation, Smart Growth and Complete Streets.
These principals encourage elected officials and planners to design and operate cities with everyone in mind – including bicyclists, public transportation vehicles and riders and pedestrians of all ages and abilities. Cities designed around compact urban areas, which include housing, employment, retail outlets, cultural opportunities and recreation, allow residents to adopt a healthier “pedestrian” lifestyle. The work is a collaborative effort by AARP, AARP Alabama and the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute.
The communities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach were chosen for this project because of the lasting effects of recent natural and man-made disasters. While still rebuilding from hurricanes in recent years, the communities were hit in 2010 by the BP oil spill. The soiled beaches greatly reduced tourism, and as a result, reduced revenue that could be reinvested to improve the cities.
But, their, “shared desire to work together to improve their community,” also made them prime candidates for this project, according to AARP Alabama Associate State Director for Community Outreach Deidra Lemons.
Following the workshop, during which the cities were evaluated, a report was presented to elected officials for consideration.
The report recommends improvements such as mixed-use or village-style areas. Mixed-use buildings and areas include more than one type of zoning and sometimes require municipal approval to allow for residential and businesses to be housed together or nearby.
The report also suggests giving Canal Road main-street appeal through the addition of lighting and landscaping to the center median. Another recommendation was that the existing walking and biking trail through the state park be expanded to serve as a vehicle evacuation route.
Lemons said AARP hopes to move forward in helping the cities implement the changes in the near future.
Orange Beach city planner and resident Griffin Powell said he is “very optimistic” about the report and he believes the recommendations would improve the community for year-round residents and visitors.
“The landscaped roadways, roundabouts at street intersection and the establishment of bike lanes within the roadways create a pleasant welcome into the community. When tourists enter your community, you want to make a good first impression, and it’s the communities that ‘think outside the box’ are always looked at favorably,” Powell said.
“At some point, a community has to decide if it wants to blend in with every other community or if it wants to distinguish itself. By implementing the recommendations from the report, this will definitely help Orange Beach distinguish itself from other communities that have gone the path of widening roads into freeways and having traffic light after traffic light,” he said.
For more information about livable communities or either of the cities in the report, visit the following sites.
City of Orange Beach