Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, MBA, President and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is among several critical thinkers who have authored essays in a new book, Investing in What Works for America’s Communities. The book, a joint project of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and the Low Income Investment Fund, includes chapters on policy, finance and education, offers a hard and experienced look at what it will take to help build strong communities that support the opportunities for people to live healthy and productive lives.
In her essay, “Why Health, Poverty, and Community Development Are Inseparable,” Lavizzo-Mourey writes about the growing need for collaboration across disciplines to revitalize low-income communities and create opportunities to make choices that enable all people to live a long and healthy life, regardless of where they live. Read an excerpt:
In order to improve health in this country, the health sector must work closely with those who plan and build communities, especially the community development and finance organizations that work in low-income neighborhoods to build child care centers, schools, grocery stores, community health clinics, and affordable housing. From the health perspective, our interest is less about the buildings and more about what happens in them. Are the schools providing healthful food and eliminating empty-calorie snacks? Is there daily physical activity during and after school? Are grocery stores providing and promoting healthful foods? Are health clinics providing “prescriptions” of healthy lifestyles and services such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, in addition to medications? Is affordable housing situated in proximity to safe places to play and be physically active? Is the neighborhood walkable, with well-lighted sidewalks that lead to public transportation, jobs, and services?
Other key essays in the new book include:
· Fighting Poverty through Community Development—by Shaun Dovonan, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development; Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education; and Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. In their essay, the Secretaries call for the empowerment of federal, regional, and local officials with a wide range of responsibilities to break barriers, effectively meet community needs, and spark economic development.
· America’s Tomorrow: Race, Place, and the Equity Agenda—by Angela Glover Blackwell, founder and CEO of the poverty action advocacy group PolicyLink. Blackwell argues that equity-driven policy change is essential to transforming poverty-driven communities into high-opportunity communities. She says this requires broad-based alliances across fields and an inclusive agenda that focuses on those left behind. This also means building public infrastructure, growing new businesses and jobs, and preparing workers for the jobs of tomorrow.
· Crime and Community Development—by Ingrid Gould Ellen, professor of urban planning and public policy at New York University. Ellen’s thesis is that public safety is an important element of community development both because people subjectively care about it, but also because crime objectively destroys the fabric of neighborhoods and heightens stress. She suggests three strategies: increasing collective efficacy (the willingness of residents to monitor public spaces and intervene when those spaces or their neighbors are threatened); reducing physical blight and disorder; and community courts, which often also house a variety of social service programs.
A new article in the journal Shelterforce (the publication of the National Housing Institute) by Marjorie Paloma, MPH, senior adviser and senior program officer for the Health Group at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), looks at collaboration among varied sectors—such as community development and health —to help create healthier housing options for diverse populations. Improvements have ranged from reducing allergens in low-income housing to improve asthma symptoms among children, to a new model of nursing home that groups just a few people in smaller facilities, resulting in better, longer and healthier lives.
Paloma says many of these collaborations are just a few years old and bring together groups such as RWJF and Federal Reserve Banks working on parallel tracks toward improving people’s lives. “These changes to housing are far less about bricks and mortar and more about creating stability for people, especially the most vulnerable,” Paloma says.
In an interview, Paloma pointed to a 2009 article, published in the Community Development Investment Review, about the Foundation’s Commission to Build a Healthier America and on the factors outside the health sector. “At that point,” says Paloma, “all of us saw that to create healthier, more vibrant communities, these sectors need to connect and collaborate with each other.”