Category Archives: Community development
While laws to help make it easier for everyone to get their veggies are cropping up all over, some would-be planters get stopped in their carrot tracks by regulations that prohibit use of public spaces for planting, or even limit what can be grown on private property, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal [note: subscription required]. In some jurisdictions, according to the article, sidewalk gardeners have been fined and may lack the clout to advocate for changing the laws.
>>Bonus Link: Read about Urban Farming, a nonprofit group with high-profile corporate sponsors that supports gardens on unused land.
NewPublicHealth is in Kansas City this week for the 2013 New Partners for Smart Growth conference, which brings together partners for smart and sustainable living from across diverse sectors. Over 1,000 attendees are expected including elected officials, government agency leaders, developers, builders, bankers, realtors, and advocates and professionals in planning, transportation, public health, landscape architecture, architecture, housing, parks and recreation, public works, crime prevention, education and the environment.
Just what is smart growth? “Smart growth means building urban, suburban and rural communities with housing and transportation choices near jobs, shops and schools. This approach supports local economies and protects the environment,” according to Smart Growth America.
Ahead of the conference, NewPublicHealth spoke with Paul Zykofsky, associate executive director at the Local Government Commission, which assists local governments in establishing and developing the key elements of livable communities, and organizes the conference. He will be leading a session at the meeting called Smart Growth 101.
NewPublicHealth: What is Smart Growth 101?
Will we ever see the end of poverty in the United States? An “Investing in What Works for America’s Communities” event held December 4 in Washington, D.C., looked at the evidence and leading examples toward doing just that. The event, sponsored by the Low Income Investment Fund, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, and The Citi Foundation, convened top community and economic development experts, analysts, financiers, researchers, philanthropists, and public policymakers from across the nation to share their findings and efforts for improving communities and discussing the next steps toward reversing record high rates of poverty. Reducing poverty, said participants, also goes hand in hand with making communities more sustainable and healthy places to live, learn, work, play, and grow.
The event was a showcase for the book, Investing in What Works for America’s Communities, in which essays from more than 40 experts in a variety of fields provide innovative ideas and concepts that are transforming community involvement and providing sustainable and healthy neighborhoods across the nation. More than 500 people from all backgrounds of public health to private sectors of the government were in attendance, either in person or through the live webcast.
The city of Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society are seeing positive results as they continue to grow their Philadelphia Green program. The program has taken on the vacant lots in Philadelphia neighborhoods and transformed them from embarrassing eye sores to points of pride – and made the community safer in the process.
“The city owned the problem even if we did not own the land” said Robert Grossmann, Director, Philadelphia Green. “We decided to use horticulture to build community and improve the quality of life in Philadelphia’s neighborhoods and downtown public spaces.”
The goal was to help build equity for the people living in the neighborhoods so they felt a sense of pride – the result was crime prevention through environmental design.
With the help of community activists and landscape contractors the program has “cleaned and greened” more than 7,000 lots. The impact is a reduction in gun crimes, lower rates of vandalism and residents even report experiencing lower stress rates and an increased urge to get out and exercise.
Martin Fenstersheib, MD, MPH, director of the Santa Clara County Public Health Department in California led a session on safe outdoor activity for kids and adults at the 2012 Public Health Law Conference. NewPublicHealth spoke to Dr. Fenstersheib about what is keeping our communities from safely getting outside to play—violence, blight and communities built for cars—and solutions grounded in evidence-based public health law.
NewPublicHealth: You presented at a key session on making outdoor physical activity opportunities safer. What makes this an important issue for you?
Dr. Fentersheib: Often when we talk about physical activity, we hear people say that all we need to do is convince kids to go outdoors. A lot of us then say, “when we were kids, our parents let us out of the house in the morning and we came back at nighttime and all was well.” There wasn’t any problem with that. But, of course, we’ve all become aware of safety as a barrier to outdoor physical activity. And the issue has to do with not only criminal or violence safety, but safe streets generally. Do cars in an area make it less safe for example? And, is our environment built in a way that it is safe for kids to walk to school? My presentation will be an overview of the benefits of physical activity, and what some of the barriers are.
We’ll also look at the legal side of the issue, including a study on mixed use land zoning. I think the bottom line is that safer neighborhoods will have more of a mixed use flavor so that you don’t have to go far to get to work or play or to recreational areas. In such neighborhoods, there are stores and other places for you to go, and you’re closer to public transportation. The data to be presented will show that the crime rates in those areas are lower than in pure industrial areas or areas where there isn’t mixed use. Mixed use is helping to improve the built environment in the communities in which we live by having more eyes on the street, by having people basically looking out for one another and be more of a community.
NPH: What are examples in Santa Clara of new plans to create safer outdoor spaces for children and adults?
Safe, vibrant neighborhoods are vital to health. The community development industry—a network of nonprofit service providers, real estate developers, financial institutions, foundations and government—brings together public and private funds and directs them into investments that transform impoverished neighborhoods into better-functioning communities.
Last week, Nancy O. Andrews, President and CEO of the Low Income Investment Fund, recently moderated a panel on “Healthy Communities” at the National Interagency Community Reinvestment Conference, a premier biannual conference for community development professionals. Andrews previously moderated several sessions on the intersection of community development and health at a series of “Healthy Communities” conferences co-sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. [Watch an archived video of the “Capital Systems Change” session at the Healthy Communities Conference in November 2011 here.]
NewPublicHealth: What is the connection between community development and human development, particularly when it comes to health? Or, how does investment in a community actually improve the health of the people living there?
Nancy Andrews: Human development, community development and health are inseparable. There is a growing body of knowledge that makes it clear that the communities we live in can help us or hurt us in every conceivable way. The effects of living in poverty can be life-long and can affect one’s ability to be physically, mentally and emotionally healthy. Just in the last six months there have been new data from a 10-year study by the Department of Housing and Urban Development that demonstrates that living in quality housing in a good community reduces obesity and diabetes by as much as 20 percent – that’s an impact a great as a medical intervention! We also know medical interventions can solve only about 10 percent of our health issues. Much, much more of a person’s health outcomes are a result of our environment, our upbringing and our habits. It is almost impossible to overstate how important the environment is on our ability to lead healthy, quality lives.
NPH: You recently led the "Healthy Communities" panel at the National Interagency Community Reinvestment Conference. What did this session cover?
Spring has sprung in the nation’s capital, and while the Cherry Blossoms are the most heralded bloom, the city is also awash in yellow forsythia, white apple blossoms, purple lavender and shovels and hoes at small and large plots of land across the area. One of those is a brand new garden at the Columbia Heights Educational Campus, a D.C. middle and high school.
The new garden is one of hundreds of People’s Gardens established by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack three years ago. The Columbia Heights garden has funding support from the D.C. Daughters of the American Revolution and planting expertise from volunteers at USDA. Students have been studying and preparing to plant their garden for a year, and it will include gathering spaces, a wildlife habitat garden and a fruit and vegetable production area. The produce will be used at school and donated locally.
Read a USDA blog post about the new garden.
Weigh In: How is your community supporting first-time gardeners?
The first national meeting on Health Impact Assessment begins April 3 in Washington, D.C., and interest is so high that registration has been at capacity for weeks. The meeting capitalizes on the growing interest in health impact assessments (HIAs) and will convene policymakers, public health professionals, HIA practitioners and anyone with an interest in learning more about the value of health impact assessments.
In advance of the meeting NewPublicHealth spoke with Arthur Wendel, MD, MPH, team lead for the Healthy Community Design Initiative at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Initiative is helping to plan the upcoming HIA conference.
NPH: What is the overarching goal of the Healthy Community Design Initiative?
Will The Lorax, a film version of the Dr. Seuss book, which opens tomorrow, prompt kids everywhere to plant gardens and eat healthier? That’s the hope of Kelly Meyer, the founder of American Heart Association Teaching Gardens, a project that teaches kids how to plant seeds, care for their plants and harvest the produce. The Lorax tells the story of a boy in search of his young love’s “heart’s desire,” a truffala tree, only to find that all the trees have been chopped down to create a new invention. A theme of environmental preservation and connection with nature runs throughout the story, and ends with a single seed meant to rebuild the forest.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Meyer, who brought a group of young gardeners to the film’s premiere in Los Angeles last week to showcase a special Teaching Garden that will be donated to local schools.
NewPublicHealth: How did the Teaching Gardens program come about?
Kelly Meyer: For me, it was a wonderful opportunity to address a health issue, childhood obesity, while connecting kids to nature and teaching them about a food source in a real, three-dimensional way. And so, I started the program with just one garden, and had the good fortune to have the program adopted by the American Heart Association. Now we’re in over 100 schools across the country and I have a real infrastructure to help push this program forward.
>>Read more on childhood obesity from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
NPH: What have you seen the kids get out of the experience?
Kelly Meyer: They learn what it takes to grow food that’s healthy for you and they learn teamwork. They have a much more real-life picture of science. We had one child in the program who was tasting a clementine from a tree she helped plant. She had never tasted one before, and when you see the expression on her face—she was prepared for it to be sour and awful, and instead it was sweet and juicy and beautiful. When we harvest the garden and prepare salads, I think the kids are shocked at how good it tastes.
>>Watch a video on the Teaching Gardens program, including footage of the young girl trying a Clementine for the very first time.
And the kids take [the message] home to their parents. I’ve gotten so many photos from kids who’ve gone home and made a little bit of space in the back and planted a tiny garden of their own. They take ownership.
NPH: How did the association with the film come about?
Kelly Meyer: I have a relationship with Universal Pictures and with the producer of the film and they gave us this opportunity to set up a beautiful garden at the premiere, and the kids got to plant and then they went to the movie and they learned it’s ultimately just about that one seed, whether it’s the literal seed for growing the last tree or the seed of an idea and its growth and how important it is to protect that.
When the movie was over, the kids ran and they couldn’t get back to the garden fast enough, and they wanted to plant more. And then, when we left the garden, we sent them all home with seedlings and I got many emails that kids had planted gardens with their parents and now they’re going to be growing vegetables together in their back yard. That was really exciting.
NPH: What’s next for you?
Kelly Meyer: I’m going to continue to focus on the Teaching Gardens because I want it to be successful. It’s not automatic. You don’t just ship it off and it’s done, it requires a lot of attention. I’d also like to broaden the concept that maintaining your environment and the environment of your body is directly related and connected to our general health.
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.