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International expert Gil Penalosa shares ideas on building healthy cities with local leaders

If local leaders want to make Central Florida streets safer and people healthier, they must intentionally design roads and civic spaces that encourage activity for all ages, international visionary Gil Penalosa told a crowd of elected officials and municipal planners Tuesday.

“No matter the size of the cities, they all have the same problem. They have been designed thinking about cars instead of people’s needs,” Penalosa said. “It’s time to change that, and it’s not a matter of budget, sometimes all it takes is creativity.” 

At a breakfast organized by Healthy Central Florida and Florida Hospital, Penalosa challenged public officials and leaders to change the orthodox way of thinking about roads and streets since they comprise almost 45 percent of our cities.

 “Making our cities healthier requires a huge commitment on behalf of elected officials and the community to not resist change,” said Maitland Mayor A. Dale McDonald. “We can’t give up to mediocrity, we owe it to our future generations to build cities that will allow them to live a healthier lifestyle.”

Penalosa’s concept: the safety and joy of children and adults — from 8 to 80 years old — should be at the forefront of every design decision in every city across the world.

“Each one of us must commit to being a guardian angel of the gentle community — children, older adults and the poor — and keep an open mind to develop ideas that will promote inclusivity and safety for them,” Penalosa said.

Among other things, Penalosa became internationally known for the “Ciclovía” program he developed in Bogota, Colombia, which allows more than 1.3 million people to walk and bike along 75 miles of car-free city roads every Sunday. Streets are closed to cars and they become large pop-up parks where people of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds ride and play together with their children every week. 

 “We look forward to continuing promoting initiatives that improve the health of our communities and we hope to see our cities fostering active spaces that encourage the sense of belonging and inclusion,” said Jill Hamilton Buss, executive director of Healthy Central Florida.

For media inquiries only, call Florida Hospital Corporate Communications at 407-303-5950 or email FHCorporateCommunicationsTeam@flhosp.org.

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