Tupelo, Mississippi is best known as the birthplace of Elvis Presley, but its fame may grow even larger next week. At Tuesday’s meeting, the City Council is set to vote on a complete streets ordinance. If passed, Tupelo’s policy will be the first in the state – setting a great precedent for other Mississippi communities.
In 2009, the Trust for America’s Health found Mississippi to have the highest percentage of overweight and obese adults and children in the country, as well as the lowest levels of physical activity among adults.
Tupelo Mayor Jack Reed Jr., who took office in July, has named improved public health and quality life among his priorities. He campaigned on making the city one of the healthiest in the state, and challenged residents to walk, jog, or run a total of 26.2 miles – the equivalent of a marathon – during the month of November.
His ultimate goal is for Tupelo to be named the “Healthiest Town in Mississippi” by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation. The insurer has challenged communities across the state to encourage and reward health and wellness, awarding three $25,000 grants to towns with proven progress. Additionally, the municipality that has made the most significant strides and has demonstrated the highest level of commitment will receive the “Healthiest Town” title, along with a $50,000 grant.
Mayor Reed has been very supportive of the complete streets ordinance, understanding that a continuous network of safe facilities for pedestrians and bicyclists will encourage active living. “In the past sidewalks for example have been kind of helter skelter…this is just a way to rededicate ourselves to more sidewalks more safe walking paths, biking paths, [and] trails,” said Mayor Reed.
The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal ran an editorial supporting the policy, stating “Streets, built and/or maintained with everyone’s taxes, and with costs recouped if paid by developers, maintained with all taxpayers’ money, should serve the interest of all users.”
Tupelo’s Department of Development Services spearheaded the ordinance effort, and complete streets principles are included in the pedestrian and bicycle plan and new development code currently being developed by the city. Tupelo drafted its excellent ordinance after consulting with planners in Arkansas and Alabama communities with complete streets policies.
Tupelo, home to 35,000, draws an additional 100,000 Elvis fans every year. With a Mayor dedicated to active, healthy living, and City committed to a strong complete streets policy, people from all over will be dusting off their blue suede shoes and taking to the streets.