Category Archives: Smart Growth
Mobilizing Communities Toward Better Health, Income and Education: Q&A With United Way's Brian Gallagher
United Way Worldwide has evolved from its roots as a fundraising organization to a critical community convener that mobilizes local partners, including businesses, community leaders, public officials and community residents, to expand opportunities for people to live healthy, quality lives. United Way focuses on three key building blocks: a quality education that leads to a stable job, enough income to support a family through retirement, and good health. With support from United Way Worldwide, 12 United Ways across the country have formed the United Way network’s first Health Mobilization Group. This peer-learning community will use the County Health Rankings framework to work with the residents, external experts and stakeholders to drive systems change to improve health and health equity in their communities.
NewPublicHealth will conduct an in-depth series on the work of United Way on the ground to improve health, education and income. The series will include Q&As with thought leaders as well as those advancing initiatives at the community level: the leaders in local United Way organizations and their communities. We kick off this series with a conversation with United Way Worldwide President and CEO, Brian Gallagher, MBA, about the organization’s priorities, key partners and methods for mobilizing communities for social change.
NewPublicHealth: United Way focuses on three key issues: education, income and health. Why are these the most critical issues, and how do they work together to impact quality of life?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced 27 grants to local organizations to build community food systems and fight hunger and food insecurity. The new projects, totaling $4.8 million in funding, include a teen-run community kitchen, faith-based community food assessments, a program to help indigenous people return to healthful eating, and a youth-led food security movement. Read more on food and nutrition.
The Ecology Center, a nonprofit environmental group in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has released its fourth consumer guide to toxic chemicals in cars. Researchers tested more than 200 of the most popular 2011- and 2012-model vehicles for chemicals that “off-gas” from parts such as the steering wheel, dashboard, armrests and seats. These chemicals contribute to “new car smell” and a variety of acute and long-term health concerns, according to Jeff Gearhart, research director at the Ecology Center. Since the average American spends more than 1.5 hours in a car every day, toxic chemical exposure inside vehicles can be a major source of indoor air pollution. Overall vehicle ratings are improving, according to the guide. The guide contains ratings for specific makes of cars.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has announced that HUD’s fiscal year 2013 budget proposal includes $100 million to fund Regional Planning and Community Challenge Grants. The grants are part of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, which is an association between HUD, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, joining the federal government with local partners to support local leadership, local resources, and local innovation.
The communities that have received these grants vary from rural communities in West Virginia and South Dakota to cities like Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Austin and Memphis; who through these grants have partnered with their local business community to create sustainable economic development plans.
HUD has also released the Sustainability Resource Center webpage, which highlights projects and best-practices from sustainability projects around the nation. Categories in the Resource Center include economic competiveness, housing and transportation choices, regional planning, green building and rural and tribal sustainability. Read more about the Partnership for Sustainable Communities in a Q&A with HUD's Shelley Poticha.
Sixteen years ago, Deb Hubsmith was on her daily drive after work and another vehicle violently smashed into the passenger side of her car. Her car was totaled. As the crash took place, Hubsmith vowed to herself that if she survived, she'd give up owning a car for good. Hubsmith, who told her story here, went on to found and direct the Safe Routes to School National Partnership and spearhead a national movement to create healthier, more walkable communities where children can walk or bike to school every day.
NewPublicHealth caught up with Deb Hubsmith to talk about why safe routes to school are critical for the nation’s health.
NewPublicHealth: Why are safe routes to school important for the nation's health and quality of life?
Deb Hubsmith: The trip to school is a trip every child in America makes. Safe Routes to School is the only federal funding that is dedicated to infrastructure and programs that help kids be able to walk and bike to school in their daily life. By building sidewalks and pathways and safer street crossings, and focusing on safe routes to school, we can change the built environment and also change the culture. This creates opportunities for safe and healthy physical activity for children across the country.
NPH: How did you come to found the Safe Routes to School National Partnership?
Deb Hubsmith: I’ve always cared a lot about the environment and public health. After I got into a car accident 16 years ago, I decided to try living life without a car. It was very difficult to do this. So, I became an advocate for transportation choices. I started off by working with parents and teachers and advocates at the local school in my community. We worked on ways to get kids to school safely by walking and biking, and by carpooling and busing. I became interested in how this could be done on a larger scale, so I started working within the county. When I heard that Congressman Oberstar was looking for ways to improve safe routes to school and walking and biking in America, I had the great fortune of meeting him and having the opportunity to run a national pilot program for safe routes to school in Marin County, Calif. In that program, in one year we increased the number of kids walking and biking to school by 57 percent. This made national news.
The childhood obesity epidemic was rising at that time, and Mr. Oberstar wanted to do something to help all of America, so I worked with his staff on crafting federal legislation, and the Safe Routes to School program was included in the transportation bill in 2005. I launched the Safe Routes to School National Partnership at the same time because I knew we needed a grassroots organization to truly build a movement. This movement needed to be diverse, with partners from health, education, equity, environmental and transportation organizations. Now, our national partnership includes about 600 organizations.
NPH: You've said the concept of safe routes to school has reached the point where it's become a true movement. How did this shift come about?
In advance of the Inaugural Health Impact Assessment Meeting, the American Society of Law Medicine and Ethics (ASLME); Network for Public Health Law; Public Health Law Association (PHLA); and the Public Health Law Research Program are hosting a webinar, "Learning More About Health Impact Assessments," on Thursday February 16, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. (EST).
Health impact assessments (HIAs) bring together scientific data, health expertise and public input to identify the potential—and often overlooked—health effects of proposed laws, regulations, projects and programs. HIAs provide decision-makers with the information they need to advance smarter policies to help build safe, healthy, thriving communities.
The webinar will provide a basic overview of health impact assessments; examine the development of an innovative HIA tool; and explore the legal authority authorizing, supporting or prohibiting HIAs.
- Aaron Wernham, MD, director of the Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts
- Harmony Gmazel, MS, land use planner for the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission in Lansing, Mich.
- Erin Fuse Brown, JD, MPH, deputy director of the Network for Public Health Law – Western Region at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law
The webinar is free and open to anyone interested. Register here by 1 p.m. (EST) on February 14. Instructions will be sent to participants.
While at the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference, we took the chance to talk to some of the meeting attendees and get their thoughts on the conference and the intersection between public health and building better communities.
Senior Health Educator
What brought you to the conference?
I love the intersect between health and planning. For me [this conference is] about peer learning to see what many of my colleagues are doing across the country and how we can take some of the best practice models and apply them to where we are. I’m also such a staunch advocate for health that I think that merging the two worlds of land use and public planning along with public health seems like a nice fit.
Who are your critical partners for smart growth?
Multitudes. On the ground, grassroots, the community residents who live in those areas, and their children and young teens who are taking a real interest now. I work with several government agencies who are realizing that the way we do business doesn’t work anymore. We’re having to look at different approaches to sustain the work we do. I also work with local city planners.
What is some of the work that you’re doing in the health community?
I look at how to improve health, especially for those in low-income communities, in areas that might be considered food deserts or food swamps. Through the public health department when I worked there, we looked at organizing farmers' markets in low-income areas, bringing access to good quality, locally-grown produce. In order to establish the farmers’ market, I had to understand what were the ordinances or the zonings to allow this to happen in a residential area. I also work with city planners to look at health language in their general plans. I work at organizing workshops in which we bring all the county agencies together so that people on the ground can understand what we need from them and what they need from us. I also look at worksite wellness and the policies we develop around lactation and vending machines, creating healthier places and making sure all those policies are infused county-wide, so all the county agencies are on the same page when it comes to promoting a healthy workplace. One of the projects I want to take on is healthy corner store conversions, and that was a really good model presented here.
What I like about this conference is that each year it grows to be more diverse. I like to see public health here. It’s really important. The conference is fairly young, but it’s growing fast and gaining the attention and momentum it should. There are so many of us now making the fight for the connection between health and the environment.
Public Health Prevention Service Fellow
What brought you to the conference?
I’m trying to kick off a strategic planning process for a built environment program at the Richmond City Health District.
Who are your critical partners for smart growth?
Our city planning department, economic and community development, the department of transportation, our local transportation system (the Greater Richmond Transit Center), private partners and some of the local non-profits.
How does your work impact the health of your community?
Getting all of the siloed sectors talking to each other about how they can impact the community in a bigger way—not just with health, but with equity, more resources, and a healthier and more vibrant community in general.
Robbyn Lewis, MPH
Public Health Researcher
What brought you to the conference?
I came for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the reason that I’m even able to be here is because I was awarded a diversity scholarship. The second reason is that I am a public health professional. I work mostly with infectious disease research, but I am very interested in sustainability and the environment, and working as a volunteer to change, transform and improve my neighborhood. I knew that I could learn a lot at this conference. I wanted to be here partly for professional development, but also for education – to learn strategies and ideas that I can take back to my home and apply to my community in Baltimore. I want to continue that volunteer work that I’m doing, but do it in a better way.
The third reason is networking. As a public health professional and researcher who is interested in the built environment, I love the field so much that I’ve been looking for ways to redirect my profession in ways that allow me to be paid for my work in the environmental and sustainability. I’m looking to broaden my network and make contacts.
Environmental and Emergency Management Specialist
What brought you to the conference?
This is the only conference that I know that is devoted specifically to these issues. I am interested to meet the fans and see what they think about it. I want to learn and compare my knowledge with people of different perspectives to see what’s new, what’s going on, and what direction people are looking to.
[Note: All statements here are from the individuals featured and do not necessarily represent the views of the organizations they work for.]
The startling new National Association of Area Agencies on Aging report, "The Maturing of America," concludes that many communities are unprepared for their quickly aging populations, with "nowhere near the level of progress that has to be made to ensure that communities are livable for people of all ages." Last week at the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference, a panel discussed the challenges our nation will face as it ages and how we can better design communities to be healthier and more accessible for all age groups.
Rebecca Hunter, MEd, of the University of North Carolina Institute on Aging and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Healthy Aging Research Network, said we’re currently facing a "perfect storm" when it comes to aging:
- Baby boomers are starting to reach “older adult” status
- There is a vast increase in the “oldest old,” or age 85 and above
- The economic downturn means we are less and less prepared for the health and social consequences of this trend
We are moving into an era when at least one in five Americans will be age 65 and older, said Hunter. "We need to ensure our communities are livable for all people."
A key group that presented at the New Partners for Smart Growth conference last week, was the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. Created in 2009, the Partnership is a collaborative initiative of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Department of Transportation (DOT), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with the combined goal of helping communities across the U.S. improve access to affordable housing, increase transportation options, and lower transportation costs while protecting the environment.
The Partnership works to coordinate federal housing, transportation, water, and other infrastructure investments to make neighborhoods more prosperous, allow people to live closer to jobs, save households time and money and reduce pollution.
"Sustainable communities are those that have access to jobs, quality schools, safe streets, environmental benefits—basically, communities that are built in ways that everyone can be included and have a better quality of life," said Shelley Poticha, who serves as HUD’s advisor to the Partnership and as Director for Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities at the Department.
The New Partners for Smart Growth Conference last week had several sessions on creating easier access to transportation alternatives that reduce dependence on motor vehicles. A recent study in the journal Health Place by Jamie F. Chriqui, PhD, senior research scientist at the University of Illinois at Chicago Institute for Health Research and Policy, moves the debate forward with a look at whether laws are a help or hindrance in increasing biking and walking to school by elementary school students.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Jamie Chriqui about the study.
NewPublicHealth: What was the scope of your study?
Jamie Chriqui: This was a nationwide study by the Bridging the Gap program at the University of Illinois in Chicago. We examined the relationship between state laws related to safe routes to school, such as minimum busing distances or requirements for crossing guards, speed zones, sidewalks around schools, and practices and policies at elementary schools related to active travel to school. We conducted the study between 2007 and 2009 and looked at thousands of schools across the country.
[Note: Bridging the Gap is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded nationally recognized research program dedicated to improving the understanding of how policies and environmental factors influence diet, physical activity and obesity among youth, as well as youth tobacco use.]
NPH: And what were the results of the study?
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has announced the availability of $826.5 million to modernize and repair transit vehicles and facilities around the country and promote the widespread use of sustainable clean fuel. DOT is inviting proposals for three of the Federal Transit Administration’s policy priorities:
- State of Good Repair. Aimed at replacing or restoring infrastructure and vehicle management.
- Livability. For projects that will improve quality of life through expanded transportation choices, new and better intermodal connections, reduced congestion, or services aimed at economically disadvantaged populations, including senior citizens and people with disabilities.
- Clean Fuels. To help communities meet national air quality standards. The program also supports the development and marketing of emerging clean fuel and advanced propulsion technologies for transit buses.
The American Heart Association and American Stroke Association have been compiling an annual list of the major advances in heart disease and stroke research since 1996. Progress was made last year in a number of areas including lifestyle risk prevention, genetics and personalized medicine, new drugs and treatment for atrial fibrillation, and improved systems to deliver faster care for heart attack and stroke. Read more on heart health.
A new study in Pediatrics shows that children who are ostracized, even for a brief period, are significantly more likely to choose sedentary activities over physical activity. Researchers from Kent State University in Ohio asked 19 children between the ages of 8 and 12 years to play a virtual ball-toss computer game, telling each child he or she was playing the game over the Internet with two other children. In half of the sessions, the game was programmed to exclude the child from receiving the ball for the majority of the game. After the game, the children were taken to a gymnasium, where they could choose any sedentary or physical activity they liked, while wearing an accelerometer. Researchers found children accumulated 22 percent fewer accelerometer counts and 41 percent more minutes of sedentary activity after being ostracized in the computer game, compared to when they were included. Read more on physical activity.
A major theme at last week's New Partners for Smart Growth Conference was "co-benefits." Many sectors and interests were represented at the conference and each took a different tack on the benefits of smart growth, or building communities so that they are walkable, affordable, generate jobs and help people get to where they need to go, including to fresh food markets, to work and play and to green spaces. The co-benefits of this kind of growth include better health, a cleaner and more sustainable environment, and a stronger economy.
The benefits to the economy were the focus of a Friday session at the Smart Growth conference, led by Lee Sobel, Real Estate Development and Finance Analyst at the Office of Sustainable Communities for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Mitchell Silver, AICP, Planning Director of the City of Raleigh, NC and President of the American Planning Association quoted Chattanooga Mayor Littlefield with an important maxim for smart growth: "If you aren't a city where people want to live, you aren't a city where people want to invest."
Younger generations will demand a different lifestyle, said Silver, and separate office parks will play no part in it. More integrated, mixed land-use areas where people can walk or take public transit to work are becoming more and more attractive to employees—and, importantly, to employers.
While young people used to find a job and then a place to live nearby, more young people today start by finding a city or community they love and then looking for a job where they want to live, said Silver. That means employers want to be where people want to live.
Beyond attracting employers, dense growth means more tax revenue for cities. It would take 150 acres of 600 single-family homes to equal the tax value of Raleigh's Wells Fargo Capitol Center, which sits on 1.2 acre land, said Silver.
A report from Active Living Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation with direction and technical assistance provided by San Diego State University, found that green spaces have economic pay-offs as well. The existence of a park within 1,500 feet of a home increased its sale price by between $845 and $2,262 (in 2000 dollars). Additionally, as parks increased in size, their impact on property value increased significantly, according to the report.
This builds on parallel research finding that preventive health efforts are sound business decisions:
- The Healthier Americans for a Healthier Economy report showcases several states and cities that have found that better health for their citizens can also improve their bottom line, in collaboration with local businesses. Read more on the report and a Q&A with Tom Mason, President of Alliance for a Healthier Minnesota, on the business perspective on prevention.
- An investment of $10 per person annually in proven, community-based public health programs could save the U.S. more than $16 billion within five years—a $5.60 return for every $1 invested. Read more on the report on the return on investment of prevention.
- Companies that sell "better-for-you" foods perform better financially. Read a Q&A with the report author.
>>Follow our coverage of the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference.