Iowa Governor Terry Branstad wants to make Iowa the healthiest state in the nation by 2016. To do that, he's trying to turn towns into "Blue Zones". Places, experts say, folks will be healthier and happier.
After being selected as a "demonstration site" for the "Blue Zones Project" last month, Spencer is ready to start. The core belief of the initiative; give towns healthier amenities and you'll have healthier people.
"I think Spencer is a perfect candidate for showing what the future is going to look like through all of America," said Dan Burden, the executive director of The Walkable and Livable Communities Institute.
Burden is part of the project. He says it starts with an "audit" of Spencer, where officials work on a list of potential changes to the town; like more bike trails, or healthier food options. When it's finished, a committee of community members will pick and enact the suggestions they like.
One of the biggest changes Spencer could see is a make over of their main street, Grand Avenue. Officials want Grand to say so long to so much traffic. They want to quiet things down and bring in more pedestrians.
"This is the market street. Yes, you can still pass through town, but if you are going to come down our main street you'll probably be interested in stopping," said Burden.
City officials say ideas like that have them excited. They expect success after the project's 18 month runtime.
"Anytime you can change potentially change the culture, that doesn't come around very often. We're real excited about this," said Bob Fagen, Spencer city manager.
The Blue Zones Project is all based off books by author, and explorer, Dan Buettner.
He says the concept began when he was writing for National Geographic. Buettner visited communities around the globe where people live the longest, to find out why. He wrote an article about it, saying people's health and happiness are products of their environment.
Buettner later expanded the concept in his books and used the techniques in Albert Lea, Minnesota, three years ago. He says it's a perfect example of how well the initiative works.
"The culture has changed. They self identify as a healthy place. The lens with which they look at themselves, and the way they plan their city is; 'We are healthy'," said Buettner.
Buettner says as a side benefit of having a healthier community, Albert Lea's health care costs have been reduced too.
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