Oklahoma City is one of the fattest cities in America, and many people believe that this has been the result of the city’s spread-out urban development. In fact, in 2008, one magazine named Oklahoma City the “least walkable city in America”.
Mayor Mick Cornett said in 2013, “I started examining my city, its culture, its infrastructure, trying to figure out why our specific city seemed to have a problem with obesity. I came to the conclusion that we had built an incredible quality of life, if you happened to be a car.”
For many years, Cornett has been working to transform the city into a place that combats obesity rather than allowing it to thrive. Cornett believes that obesity can be beaten by rebuilding the city around pedestrians instead of drivers.
During the past eight years, Oklahoma City has received a significant makeover. The mayor has reshaped roads and neighborhoods to encourage a more walkable environment. All in all, he has asked taxpayers for $777 million to make the city a slimmer place. These methods have gotten Cornett re-elected to office on three separate occasions.
Cornett started this task in late 2007, when he declared that the city was going to “lose one million pounds”. He started a website called thiscityisgoingonadiet.com, and he started asking citizens to keep track of their own weight loss goals. He even made an appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres Show to talk about his weight-loss successes.
By January of 2012, more than 51,000 Oklahoma City residents had signed up on the website, and the city reached its goal of losing one million pounds. Cornett himself even managed to lose 38 pounds. However, the city still has a large amount of work to do, as more than 30% of its residents are obese. Still, Cornett managed to put obesity on the map.
Cornett said, “I can tell you that that message about nutrition and health has penetrated in Oklahoma City. We’re no longer in denial. People still come up to me, if not daily then several times a week, to tell me stories: how much weight they lost, how much weight their spouse lost. That doesn’t happen with any other topic.”
Even after the city lost one million pounds, Cornett continued to push for more. He raised sales taxes in order to fund the $777 million project that would fund everything from new parks to new sidewalks in order to get his people moving. He installed bike lanes and reduced driving lanes, all in an effort to make his city walkable.
It now appears that obesity, which had been increasing in Oklahoma City for decades, is finally leveling off. Cornett knows that it will be many years before the results of his experiment can be seen, but he believes that he is off to a good start.
“Changing the health of a community takes a long time. It takes probably a generation, but you can feel here that the conversation has shifted. Kids that are growing up in Oklahoma City today are just growing up in a different city than I did,” he said
Cornett did it all. He restored a dried-up ditch and transformed it into an expanse of water where rowing enthusiast can get exercise. He created sidewalks and nature trails so that people could walk instead of drive. He identified particularly unhealthy and low-income zip codes and created health facilities in those areas. He improved public transportation services to, again, discourage driving. He added bike lanes and parking lanes to discourage high-speed travels on public roads. Needless to say, the city has experienced a complete and utter transformation under Cornett’s watch.
It’s still too early to tell just how much of a difference these changes will make, but Cornett is confident that things are only going to get better. If all goes well, we could be slowly watching the transformation of one of the unhealthiest cities in the nation into one of the country’s slimmest.