Now Viewing: Built Environment and Health

Healthy Community Planning Means Healthier Neighbors

Nov 17, 2014, 3:44 PM, Posted by Helene Combs Dreiling

5716 Wellness is housed in a historic Albert Kahn-designed cigar factory. 5716 Wellness is housed in a historic Albert Kahn-designed cigar factory.

Too often, U.S. public health policy focuses on treating illnesses after they are diagnosed, instead of encouraging healthy lifestyles to prevent illness in the first place. But architects—my profession—are engaged in a wholesale effort to reverse this focus. Throughout the U.S., right in the buildings where we live and work, architects are incorporating design techniques that can help prevent illness and benefit the local communities that live with their designs.

One of the best examples of this effort—even amidst bankruptcy and a historic unraveling of a once-dominant American city—is the Detroit Collaborative Design Center (DCDC), a nonprofit architecture and urban design firm that offers proof that neighborhoods that facilitate holistic wellness and preventative care are as valuable as doctors who make house calls.

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Healthy Communities: The Building Blocks of a Culture of Health

Aug 25, 2014, 9:15 AM, Posted by Jamie Bussel

Baldwin Park California

What do Corvallis, Ore.; Baldwin Park, Calif.; and Buffalo, N.Y. have in common? It certainly isn’t their weather.

Hint—the commonality is something much more relevant to RWJF’s newly refined mission. These three cities are building a Culture of Health for all their citizens. They are tapping into the skills and resources of a diverse group of partners to ensure everyone has access to healthy choices. It’s their collective efforts, along with dozens of other communities supported by the Foundation’s Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities (HKHC) program, that make me so optimistic about our organizational goal.

My strong belief that environments—physical, social and educational—play a prominent role in our individual health and well-being is what initially drew me to RWJF. So, in 2008, I excitedly embraced the opportunity to be the national program officer for HKHC, which addressed the root causes of childhood obesity by transforming the physical activity and food environments in which children and their families live, learn and play.

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Leveraging the Power of Design and Design Thinking for Public Health

Oct 8, 2013, 10:00 AM, Posted by Matthew Trowbridge

AIGA UVA Design

It is increasingly clear that solutions for our most pressing and challenging public health issues will ultimately hinge on designing environments that encourage healthy behavior choices by making them more available, economical, and enjoyable.

Traditional public health approaches are not perfectly suited to this task. For example, epidemiological studies allow us to measure the association between environmental design features such as parks or sidewalks and walking behavior, but these experimental data are generally insufficient to be either actionable by decision-makers or effective in prompting behavior change. As Jeff Speck, urban planner and theorist, observes in his recent book Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time:

The pedestrian is an extremely fragile species, the canary in the coal mine of urban livability. Under the right conditions, this creature thrives and multiplies. But creating those conditions requires attention to a broad range of criteria, some more easily satisfied than others.”

Public health must improve its ability to develop multi-dimensional interventions to more successfully provide environments and experiences that encourage positive health outcomes.  Put another way, public health must develop its capacity for design thinking.

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Why Microbes and Albert Einstein are a Part of Our Culture of Health

Jul 19, 2013, 4:09 PM, Posted by Anna Heling

This is the second in a series. Read the first here.

Promoting a “culture of health” isn’t just a 9-to-5 job for RWJF employees; many of them also use their time out of the office to further their push toward health and well-being. As Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, president and CEO, describes it, creating a culture of health means having “the kind of values where we can say health, and the policies and practices that go into making sure we are a healthy community, are as much a part of us as are the values that say we pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Below, three more members of the RWJF crew talk about how they’re furthering this healthy mindset throughout the summer months.

 

BRINGING ROLLERBLADING BACK: Christine Nieves (Program Associate, Pioneer Team)

For Nieves, this summer is all about conquering fears. Although she spent her teenage years rollerblading in her native Puerto Rico, her hiatus from the wheels translated into being “terrified” of the activity. Even so, she’s spending her free time getting back into the groove of rollerblading while simultaneously exploring local parks. “It’s more than exercise,” she said. “It’s getting over things that make me nervous and that I’m afraid to do. It’s looking at the things that hold me back and building confidence.”

Nieves and her boyfriend/pseudo-rollerblading coach have already taken to the paved paths of Mercer County Park and Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve (with a goal of rolling around Princeton Stadium “when no one’s looking”).

Lazy patterns of physical activity can lead into lazy patterns of thought, Nieves said, and she reminds herself of this Albert Einstein quote when she’s feeling the urge to slouch on the couch: “Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”

Added Nieves, “Maintaining a culture of health is something that helps me maintain my mind and set physical, professional, and personal goals for myself. I think of it as a holistic thing.”

 

OPENING THAT WINDOW: Lori Melichar (Director)

The New York City dweller was struck by a recent RWJF talk about microbes, the trillions of microorganisms invisible to the naked eye that surround us and interact with our bodies and the environment. Biologist, engineer, and ecologist Jessica Green visited the Foundation and said that our secure, built environment – the buildings where we live, work, and play – may not be the healthiest. By holding tight control over our environments and keeping the outdoors out and the indoors in, Green said the microbes around us are less diverse, which studies suggest increases our risk of interacting with potential pathogens.

With this in mind, Melichar is doing what she can to ramp up her microbial variety. “For one of my recent meetings I went on a walking meeting around the Foundation,” she said. “The way I used to think about that was walking for exercise, and now I think about it as getting a little bit of variation in my microbes. I’d never thought before about this, but it seems like there’s the potential for this variation to be health-increasing.”

She said even opening the window a crack can help: “If you have the window open a bit, microbes from the trees and from the birds and from everything else outside can mix with everything inside that hasn’t gotten out...because we have double-doors on everything.”

 

“GREEN-IFYING” THE HOME: Linda Manning (Program Team Coordinator, Program Service Center)

Along with a 60-year-old house come inevitable renovations, but Manning is choosing to make them green ones. After a faulty lawnmower spit out a rock, breaking a window in her Hamilton home, she and her husband decided to replace their basement windows with those that are more energy efficient.

They’re also re-landscaping to combat the hungry creatures chomping away at the yard. “Rather than spraying all the flowers and plants with a spray – which isn’t always friendly to the environment – we decided to change a lot of the plants to those that will discourage the animals from snacking on them,” Manning said.

Keeping her home tidy and up-to-date helps her stay healthy, too. “I’ve had a lot of health problems that are not controlled by the environment, but I find that, if I do these things, it makes me feel better,” she said. “It makes me feel good that I have a really clean home. I think it just makes everybody healthier.”

Rebuilding Health Communities After Disaster

May 28, 2013, 4:30 PM, Posted by Risa Lavizzo-Mourey

Risa Lavizzo-Mourey RWJF President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD

It is a testament to the American spirit that less than a day after a tornado brought a 20-mile-wide swath of death and destruction to Moore, OK, public officials and residents unequivocally pledged to rebuild the community. “We will rebuild and we will regain our strength,” Gov. Mary Fallin told a news conference after viewing the devastation. Similar assertions were made after Hurricane Sandy wiped out entire neighborhoods on the New York and New Jersey coasts eight months ago, and will surely be made again and again after future natural disasters.

I applaud the can-do determination. But I also suggest that we take a minute and think, not just about rebuilding, but creating something better. Why not rebuild communities where health and wellness is a top priority?

That's according to RWJF President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, in her latest post on the professional social networking site LinkedIn. Dr. Lavizzo-Mourey is one of about 300 LinkedIn Influencers writing for the site.

Dr. Lavizzo-Mourey writes:

Imagine rebuilding neighborhoods that make healthy living an easy and fun choice, that offer more places to safely walk or bike, more open spaces where families can exercise and play, and more restaurants that offer healthy choices and provide nutritional information on their menus.

To learn how New Orleans successfully rebuilt a healthier environment after Hurricane Katrina read the rest of the LinkedIn post here