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Slow down and improve your Iowa community, Blue Zones expert says

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MASON CITY — You can design a town for cars or you can design a town for people — but you can’t do both, a Blue Zones expert said Thursday.

Dan Burden, who has been a consultant to more than 3,700 cities in his career, proposed some innovative ideas when he spoke at a session of the Iowa Downtown Conference at The Music Man Square.

The three-day conference, which ended Thursday, attracted civic leaders from all over the state.

One of his suggestions, something he said has worked in many communities, is to reduce speed limits to 20 miles an hour and eliminate stop signs and stoplights.

“Put round-abouts up instead of stop signs. The noise level drops and people actually get to their destinations sooner,” said Burden.

The lower speed limit also allows people the opportunity to see more of the community and perhaps see somewhere they’d like to stop.

And when they stop, they meet people, and when that happens, you have a happier community, he said.

Burden also places a heavy emphasis on a city’s “walkability” not only for the exercise but for the opportunity for people to meet and greet one another.

“The key to success is the foot,” he said. Cities should be built to encourage short trips, places you can go by walking or biking.

“If you build for the car, people don’t linger,” said Burden. “How many conversations have you struck up at the drive-up window at McDonald’s?”

“We need to get away from standards and start using common sense,” he said.

There’s another advantage to cities building with people in mind rather than automobiles. “If you build for people, the adjacent land value will go up,” said Burden.

He said downtowns should have an age-friendly design. “When I go into a downtown, I like to see elderly people there and children.”

Burden first came to Mason City in 2010 and said he is amazed at the progress the city has made, particularly with trails. He praised the City Council for investing $1.8 million in the bicycle-pedestrian trails master plan.

Angie Determan, head of the Blue Zones project in Mason City, and retired doctor Steven Schurtz, a recreational cyclist and Blue Zones Community Public Policy Committee member, also gave presentations.

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