Category Archives: Community development

Jun 26 2013
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Architecture and Public Health: A NewPublicHealth Q&A with Brooks Rainwater

Brooks Rainwater, AIA’s Director of Public Policy Brooks Rainwater, AIA’s Director of Public Policy

In 2012, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) established the Decade of Design initiative to research and develop architectural design approaches for urban infrastructure and to implement solutions to ensure the effective use of natural, economic and human resources that promote public health.

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Brooks Rainwater, the AIA’s director of public policy, about the initiative and the impact it can have on public health.

NewPublicHealth: How did the Decade of Design project come about and what are the goals?

Brooks Rainwater: The Decade of Design global urban solutions challenge is our Clinton Global Initiative commitment to action. CGI convenes global leaders to create and implement innovative solutions to the world's most pressing challenges. We put together a 10-year AIA pledge with a focus on documenting, envisioning and implementing solutions related to the design of the urban built environment in the interest of public health, and effective use of natural economic and human resources. In order to do this, the AIA is working with partner organizations—including the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture and the MIT Center for Advanced Urbanism—to leverage design thinking in order to effect meaningful change in urban environment through research, community participation, design frameworks and active implementation of innovative solutions.

We started in 2012 by giving research grants to three architecture programs at Texas A&M University, the University of Arkansas and the University of New Mexico.

At Texas A&M, they focused on evaluating the health benefits of livable communities and creating a toolkit for measuring the health impacts of walkable communities as they’re being developed in Texas.

Researchers at the University of Arkansas have a plan called Fayetteville 2030. The city is slated to double in population in the next two decades, so they have brought together community leaders to develop a long-range plan to focus on local food production, including urban farming to help prepare for the large population growth.

At the University of New Mexico, they're establishing an interdisciplinary public health and architecture curriculum. Over the next three years they want to create joint courses on some of the translation issues that come up between the professions, making sure that architects can speak the public health language and public health professionals can also understand the built environment in a new and different way.

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Jun 25 2013
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International Making Cities Livable Conference: UCLA’s Richard Jackson on Shaping Healthy Suburban Communities

"We have medicalized what is in fact an environmental-driven set of diseases," said Richard Jackson, MD, MPH, professor and chair of environmental health science at the UCLA School of Public Health, in a keynote presentation that energized and galvanized discussion among the diverse audience of city planners, architects and public officials at this week’s International Making Cities Livable Conference. This year’s conference focuses on bringing together a vision— across sectors—of how to shape healthy suburban communities.

Jackson, a prominent pediatrician and host of the “Designing Healthy Communities” series that aired on PBS, told an all-too-familiar story of a child who comes into a doctor’s office overweight and with alarming cholesterol and blood pressure results even at a young age. So the doctor prescribes behavior change: No soft drinks in the house. No screens in the bedroom. Exercise, do more, and come back in two months. In two months, what’s changed? Nothing. The food at school is still unhealthy, the neighborhood is still unsafe to play in and the family still uses the car to get absolutely everywhere because there is no other choice. The likely outcome for that child and so many others, said Jackson, is to end up on costly cholesterol medication just two months later when the child’s vital statistics continue to spiral out of control.

"It’s a 20th century idea that our minds are separated from our bodies, and our communities are separated from ourselves,” he Jackson, who reminded the crowd that the most critical health advancements in the last century took place because of changes in infrastructure, not medicine—primarily new sanitary standards to curb out-of-control infectious disease.

Now, said Jackson, “We’ve built America around the car” and we need a whole new set of infrastructure changes to re-build communities that offer better opportunities for health as part of everyday life. “The built environment is social policy in concrete.”

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Jun 24 2013
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International Making Cities Livable Conference: A NewPublicHealth Q&A with Conference Co-Founder Suzanne Lennard

Suzanne Lennard, Co-founder of the International Making Cities Livable Conference Suzanne Lennard, Co-founder of the International Making Cities Livable Conference

NewPublicHealth is on the road this week at the AcademyHealth Annual Research Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland and the International Making Cities Livable Conference meeting in Portland, Oregon. Watch out for session coverage, Q&As with presenters and other updates from both conferences this week.

The International Making Cities Livable Council is an interdisciplinary, international network of individuals and cities dedicated to making our cities and communities more livable, with a focus on how the built environment impacts the wellbeing of the people who live in a community. This year’s conference focuses on creating healthy suburbs. And though health is an inextricable component of a livable city or suburb, this concept also includes enabling healthy social interaction; fostering a healthy local economy; creating safe spaces where children can grow up successfully; and more. NewPublicHealth coverage will focus on the critical connection between health and livability.

Prior to the conference, we connected with Suzanne Lennard, co-founder of the International Making Cities Livable Conference, who provided critical context on just what makes a city livable, and some of the contextual history on how our nation’s cities and suburbs strayed from livability—and what we can learn from other counties in getting back to healthy, livable places to live, learn and play.

NewPublicHealth: How did you come to found the International Making Cities Livable Conference?

Suzanne Lennard: My husband, who died several years ago, was a medical sociologist and social psychologist and his field was the study of social interaction in different settings and under different circumstances. When I met him, I was studying for a PhD at UC Berkeley in Human Aspects of Architecture and Urban Design and I was interested in how the built environment enhanced well-being. We started working together and since we were both from Europe—he was Viennese and I was from England—we began to look at how some European cities were enhancing well-being.

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Jun 20 2013
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RWJF ‘Commission to Build a Healthier America’ Reconvenes to Focus on Early Childhood and Improving Community Health

What do the needs of children in early childhood and improving community health have to do with each other? Everything, according to a group of panelists who addressed the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Commission to Build a Healthier America at a public meeting in Washington, D.C. yesterday.   

Early childhood education and other interventions early in life, particularly for low-income children, can set kids on a path to better jobs, increased income and less toxic stressors such as violence and food insecurity, according to testimony at the today’s meeting. And that in turn creates more stable and healthier communities. Those two issues are the focus of the Commission, which plans to release actionable recommendations in September.

Yesterday’s event marks the first time the Commission is reconvening since it issued recommendations for improving health for all Americans in 2009. It will be co-chaired again by Mark McClellan, MD, PhD, director of the Engelberg Center for Health Care Reform at The Brookings Institution and former Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and Alice M. Rivlin, PhD, senior economist at The Brookings Institution and former director of the Office of Management and Budget.

“Although we have seen progress since the Commission issued its recommendations in 2009, we still have a long way to go before America achieves its full health potential,” said RWJF President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, MBA at the Commission’s  public meeting in Washington. “We know what works: giving children a healthy start with quality child care and early childhood development programs, and building healthy communities where everyone has an opportunity to make healthy choices. That is why RWJF is reconvening the Commission, to concentrate on these two critical areas.”

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May 13 2013
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Faces of Public Health: Taja Sevelle

Taja Sevelle Taja Sevelle in one of her many gardens [Photo courtesy of Urban Farming]

Urban Farming, founded by recording artist Taja Sevelle, is a nonprofit organization with a goal of reducing hunger and increasing access to fresh, healthy foods by encouraging people in urban, rural and suburban areas to plant gardens on unused land. There are now over 66,600 community, residential and partner gardens that are part of the Urban Farming Global Food Chain around the world.

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Taja Sevelle about the group and its plans for the future.

NewPublicHealth: How did you become interested in the issue of Urban Farming?

Taja Sevelle: I was recording a CD for Sony Records in Detroit, Mich., when I began to see the vast amounts of unused land in the city. I knew that numerous jobs were being shipped overseas and a lot of people who had lost their jobs were suffering. So, in 2005 I put my music career on the back burner and started Urban Farming with three gardens and a pamphlet. It was always a global vision that grew rapidly and started to get international coverage quickly.

Even though this seems like a new idea, it really is just reacquainting people with the age-old act of planting food. The World War II victory gardens, for example, are a great model because during that time, 20 million Americans planted gardens and grew almost half of the U.S. produce supply. Recently, when the economic downfall hit around the world, planting a garden became a necessity for many people who may not have been thinking about it previously.

NPH: What are the key goals for Urban Farming?

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May 8 2013
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Public Health Law Research: Zoning for Walkability

Municipal mixed-use zoning is a public health strategy to create more walkable neighborhoods by creating integrated, un-siloed access to daily activities—such as going grocery shopping and traveling to school and work. A recent study in a special issue of the Journal of Health, Politics, Policy and Law funded by Public Health Law Research, a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, evaluated municipal zoning ordinances in 22 California cities to see whether the ordinances improved walkability in those communities. NewPublicHealth spoke with the study’s two authors, Sue Thomas, PhD, senior research scientist at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation-Santa Cruz (PIRE) and Carol Cannon, PhD, formerly with PIRE and current associate research scientist at the CDM Group, Inc, a consulting firm in Bethesda, Md.

>>Read the full study.

NewPublicHealth: What was the scope of your study? 

Carol Cannon: We looked at ordinances that create municipal mixed use zoning, and whether these laws seem to have an impact on the potential for walking to destinations. 

NPH: In what ways were the study and findings innovative?

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Apr 19 2013
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Sidewalk Spinach: Recommended Reading

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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.

Feb 7 2013
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New Partners for Smart Growth Q&A: Paul Zykofsky

Paul Zykofsky Paul Zykofsky, Local Government Commission, leading a walkability audit in Baldwin Park, Calif.

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?

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Dec 5 2012
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Investing in What Works: Toward Healthy, Prosperous Communities

Investing in What Works

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.

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Nov 1 2012
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Power in Greening

file PHS Pop Up Garden (Image courtesy of Pennsylvania Horticultural Society)

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.