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Crafting Win-Win Solutions with Health Impact Assessments

Jun 22, 2015, 3:01 PM, Posted by Pamela Russo

Health impact assessments are a powerful way to help communities think broadly about the health implications and equity aspects of policies and projects, so that a comprehensive approach to health becomes routine.

Prison Alternatives Boosted by Health Impact Assessment

Last week, almost 500 attendees arrived in the nation’s capital for the 2015 National Health Impact Meeting. The impressive turnout is a testament to the growing importance of health impact assessments (HIA) as a tool to improve community health outcomes.

As this year’s meeting attendees know, an HIA is a process that helps evaluate the potential health effects of a plan, project or policy outside of the traditional health arena. The findings from a completed HIA can provide valuable recommendations to help communities more effectively foster better and more equitable health among their citizens.

The use of HIAs has grown rapidly from just a few dozen in 2000 to more than 350 completed HIAs today. Dozens more are in the works. The earliest HIAs were mostly applied to the built environment, such as zoning, land use and transportation decisions. However, today the field has expanded to include such areas as energy policies, criminal justice and living wages.

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Building Healthier Places In Birmingham and Beyond

Jun 1, 2015, 11:46 AM, Posted by Susan Dentzer

How a section of Birmingham, Alabama is redeveloping and offering greater opportunities for people at multiple income levels. The secret? Engaging the community throughout the process.

With its elegant homes, pleasant park and bustling stores, the Woodlawn section of Birmingham, Alabama was described in a 1950 news article as “a really great section of Birmingham...typical of the fine things in life." Then came the racial unrest of the 1960s, disruption from urban renewal gone awry and white flight to Birmingham’s suburbs. Joblessness and poverty took root; the housing stock decayed. Today, median income in Woodlawn is just $21,000, less than half the level for Birmingham as a whole.

But now Woodlawn is in the midst of a turnaround, aiming to become not just a neighborhood that prospers economically, but also one where people live healthier lives.

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Clearing the Air in Louisville through Data and Design

May 13, 2015, 12:44 PM, Posted by Alonzo L. Plough

Louisville, Kentucky ranks among the poorest in air quality and highest in asthma rates among U.S. cities. A new art installation from Propeller Health shows residents real-time changes in the city's air quality, equipping them with the data to reach their goal of becoming one of the healthiest cities by 2020.

Airbare air quality installation in Louisville, Kentucky

I stand in front of an intriguing art installation on a busy street corner in downtown Louisville, KY, and visualize the invisible. It’s a bright orange steel kiosk outfitted with an interactive touch screen that allows passersby to “see” how air pollution levels change around the city in real time while also learning how these pollutants impact the severity of asthma symptoms. Called AirBare, the installation project was funded by RWJF and represents a unique collaboration between visual artists, big data analysts and local health advocates. By “popping” virtual bubbles on the screen, users find out what causes air pollution and what it will take to reverse it. This is relevant information for residents of Louisville, a city that consistently ranks among the lowest in air quality in the nation and has one of the highest rates of asthma and other respiratory conditions.

My visit to the AirBare installation coincided with a conference held in Louisville in March that brought together economists, health policy folks, food experts and, remarkably, Charles, the Prince of Wales, to examine the issue of air quality and the larger concept of sustainability in this Ohio River Valley city. The Prince, a longtime advocate for environmental issues with connections in Louisville, added star power to the Harmony & Health conference, sponsored by the non-profit Institute of Health Air Water & Soil. But there is plenty else to be excited about in Louisville. Under the leadership of Mayor Greg Fischer, city agencies have collected reams of data on air quality, health outcomes, life expectancy, income inequality, and unemployment, among many other measures. What has emerged is a far better picture of the tough environmental and socioeconomic issues impacting the health and wellbeing of Louisville’s 600,000 residents, and a serious and concerted commitment to build a culture of health.

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Design That Heals: The American Institute of Architects Rewrites the Rules

Apr 9, 2015, 9:27 AM, Posted by Sheree Crute

The South Bronx's Via Verde, an award-winning affordable housing complex designed around equity and social cohesion, shows us a new era of healthy design is here—and it's contagious.
 

Via Verde (Image credit: David Sundberg/Esto)

Each winter, Raquel Lizardi and her heartiest garden club members brave the New York City cold to tend their community’s apple trees. “They are very delicate,” Lizardi says, sharing her training at GrowNYC, a nonprofit that seeks to create a healthier environment in the city, block by block. Their efforts ensure that the small orchard yields barrels of sweet Red Delicious, Gala, and slightly tart McIntosh apples for Lizardi and her neighbors in the fall.

Come spring, the group turns its attention to planting enough organic spinach, collards, kale, berries, tomatoes, other vegetables, and herbs to keep all of their tables filled with free, fresh produce.

The orchard, gardens, and grove of evergreens where Lizardi and her neighbors come together are a center of community activity at Via Verde/The Green Way, an award-winning, affordable housing development that rises above a quiet street just off bustling Third Avenue in the South Bronx. Built on a former garbage-strewn lot and Brownfield in 2012, Via Verde is now an international symbol of healthy design achievement.

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Research Designed Through the Eyes of Youth

Mar 17, 2015, 12:30 PM, Posted by Alonzo L. Plough, Dwayne Proctor

There's power in giving youth the means to document what they see as the barriers to their community's health. This project from Charlotte, N.C. shows us how this innovative research design can be a step to addressing local disparities.

Last year, we at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation asked our community a bold question: What was considered the most influential research around identifying and eliminating disparities? In our first-ever Culture of Health reader poll, a winning research paper emerged in Por Nuestros Ojos: Understanding Social Determinants of Health through the Eyes of Youth, published in the Summer 2014 edition of Progress in Community Health Partnerships. The research project equipped young people in Charlotte, N. C., with cameras to identify and document environmental factors that impact health in their Latino immigrant community. What really makes this paper resonate for us—and, it seems, for many of you—is that it provides a clear example of how community-based participatory research (CBPR) is an important approach to understanding the multiple factors underlying health disparities.

We wanted to learn more about this interesting example of participatory research and how the Por Nuestros Ojos project is helping advance health equity in Charlotte. Recently, our blog team had a conversation with three of the study’s authors to find out how employing a participatory research model can help enormously in understanding and eliminating disparities in marginalized communities. Below is an interview with Johanna (Claire) Schuch, research assistant and doctoral candidate at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC); Brisa Urquieta de Hernandez, project manager at the Carolinas HealthCare System and doctoral student at UNCC; and Heather Smith PhD, professor, also at UNCC.

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Creating Open & Sacred Spaces To Improve Health

Jan 21, 2015, 7:23 PM

In 1995, Tom Stoner and his wife Kitty discovered a tiny urban park in the middle of a busy London neighborhood that had been used as a refuge during World War II. On the backs of many of the park’s benches, the Stoners found loving thoughts and peacetime memories that had been etched by Londoners during the horrors of war. They realized that if an urban park could be a source of quiet and solace during a time of bombing and destruction, then similar natural environments could certainly offer spaces for reflection, recovery and respite for people dealing with the stress of modern life. With that idea the Stoners created the TKF Foundation to support the creation of urban green spaces.

“The speed, violence and alienation that characterize our current period in human history create an important need for open spaces, sacred places,” says Tom Stoner.

In 2010 Tom and Kitty began the National Nature Sacred Awards Initiative, designed to support the creation of public greenspaces to serve as demonstration and research sites to study the impact of nature on the human spirit. NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Tom Stoner about the intersection of green space and improved health and lives.  

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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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RWJF Pioneering Ideas Podcast: Episode 6 | What if? Shifting Perspectives to Change the World

Oct 20, 2014, 9:00 AM, Posted by Pioneer Blog Team

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RWJF's Pioneering Ideas Podcast is on iTunes! Don’t miss an episode—click to subscribe.

Welcome to the sixth episode of RWJF’s Pioneering Ideas podcast, where we explore cutting edge ideas and emerging trends that can help build a Culture of Health. Your host is Lori Melichar, director at the foundation.

Ideas Explored in This Episode

Sharing Health Care Providers’ Notes (3:08) OpenNotesTom Delbanco and Jan Walker talk with RWJF’s Emmy Ganos about why they decided getting health care providers to share their notes with patients was an essential innovation–and where their work is headed next. Here’s a hint: what if the  3 million patients who now have easy access to their clinician’s notes could co-write notes with their providers?

Rethinking How We Solve Poverty (18:46) Kirsten Lodal, founder and CEO of LIFT, talks with RWJF’s Susan Mende and shares some simple ideas with the potential to revolutionize our approach to helping people achieve economic stability and well being. In a thought-provoking conversation, Lodal connects the dots between improving the well being of those living in poverty and building a Culture of Health.

A Historian’s Take on Building a Culture of Health (27:58) – Princeton historian Keith Wailoo and RWJF’s Steve Downs discuss how deeply held cultural narratives influence our perceptions of health, and how today’s “wild ideas” are often tomorrow’s cutting edge innovations.

Sound bites

...On opening up health care providers’ notes and what’s next:

“What I would like to do is spread the responsibility for health beyond the health care system. The health care system is good; I hope that it gets better, but there are so many other parts of our lives that contribute to our well being.” – Jan Walker, OpenNotes 

“It will be a very different world in the future. And we do think that OpenNotes is kind of giving people a peek into it. It's a first glimmer that this kind of transparency, this kind of approach to things, while it's passive now, it just opens up an enormous amount of possibilities for the future. And that's what really excites us.” – Tom Delbanco, OpenNotes

...On rethinking how we solve poverty:

“People's lives are like rivers... they flowed before coming into contact with us, and they will flow after having contact with us. And so the opportunity that we have, the privilege that we have is of most positively affecting the trajectory and the velocity of that flow. But if we forget that–if we get too swept up in having to own everything that happens in a person's life–then we won't build the best solutions, because we won't build solutions that provide people with the support they need to navigate the flow of that river over the long term.” – Kirsten Lodal, LIFT

...A historian’s take on building a Culture of Health: 

“Our concern with aggregate trends is an important one in tracing the shifting demographics of health in our country, but to understand what health actually means involves actually putting the data aside and thinking about lives and thinking about individuals and thinking about what these trends mean on an individual level.”– Keith Wailoo, Princeton University

Your Turn

Now that you’ve listened – talk about it! Did anything you heard today get you thinking in new ways about how you can help build a Culture of Health? Do you have a cutting-edge idea you’d like to discuss? Comment below or tweet at me at @lorimelichar, or consider submitting a proposal. Be sure to keep the conversation and explorations going at #RWJFpodcast.

Join the Conversation

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The Ever-Evolving Traffic Light Could See More Changes Ahead

Sep 26, 2014, 2:24 PM

A one-of-its-kind pedestrian traffic walk signal recently turned heads in Portugal with a dancing figure that entertained people as they waited for him to tell them when it was safe to cross the street.

The signal—not planned for mass circulation anytime soon—was developed by the manufacturer Smart to advertise its cars’ safety features. And if it saves lives along the way, it’s in sync with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), where the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has found that 4,432 pedestrians died in traffic crashes in 2011, up 3 percent from 2010. More than a quarter of the accidents resulting in death happened at traffic intersections, both at marked crosswalks and intersections with traffic lights. Andrea Gielen, PhD, head of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy at Johns Hopkins University, says the school’s research shows that many of these accidents occur because pedestrians are distracted by music in their earphones or by speaking or texting on cellphones.

NHTSA began a campaign to keep pedestrians safer last year and highlights community projects that improve pedestrian safety in a stories section on its website on pedestrian safety. One project, developed at University of California, San Diego, was a presentation at a low-income elementary public school in San Diego, Calif. The English- and Spanish-language presentation demonstrated dangerous scenarios and how to prevent them, such as kids dressed in only dark clothing, which makes them difficult to see at night. NHTSA is updating the site regularly to help communities develop their own safe walking programs.

As for traffic lights themselves, makeovers could be ahead. The Transportation Research Board of the National Academies of Sciences has a traffic light subcommittee that presents new research on traffic signal safety at the board’s annual meeting each January. Upcoming topics of interest are likely to include computerized traffic signals that can respond to traffic flow by switching to green sooner when there’s no congestion ahead, as well as a recent study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that found that traffic lights are easily hacked, which could lead to traffic jams and collisions. Preventing some of the hacking could be as simple as strengthening the passwords of the engineers who control the traffic signals, according to computer engineers at MIT.

Wendy Landman, executive director of the pedestrian advocacy group Walk Boston, says intersections could be safer if city agencies talked more. She said the deciding factor for how long a traffic signal should be green for pedestrians is often based on how quickly traffic experts think drivers want to be back on the gas pedal—but that may be too short for many pedestrians, especially at intersections on main roads.

>>Bonus Content: Read a previous NewPublicHealth interview with Andrea Gielen.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.

New Survey: Americans like Mass Transit

Sep 18, 2014, 1:50 PM

A new report on public transit, Who’s on Board: The 2014 Mobility Attitudes Survey, has good news for developers and planners. The review of transit across the United States by TransitCenter, a New York City-based non-profit aimed at increasing and improving mass transit, finds that Americans across the country think about and use public transit in remarkably similar ways. That can result in communities adopting good ideas from other regions—reducing cost and speeding up new and improved transit systems.

“We commissioned this survey to take a deeper look at the public attitudes which are propelling recent increases in transit ridership,” said Rosemary Scanlon, Chair of TransitCenter and Divisional Dean of New York University’s Schack Institute of Real Estate. “As Millennials begin to take center stage in American life and the Baby Boom generation confronts retirement, both the transit industry and the real estate industry will need to adjust.”

The survey—the largest of its kind, according to TransitCenter—reviewed online survey responses from nearly 12,000 people from 46 metropolitan areas across the country, including a mix of what the group refers to as “transit progressive” cities (such as Miami, Denver, Seattle and Minneapolis) and “transit deficient” cities (such as Tampa, Dallas, Fresno and Detroit.)

Among the findings:

  • When choosing whether or not to take public transportation, riders of all ages and in all regions place the greatest value on factors such as travel time, proximity, cost and reliability, putting them above safety, frequency and perks such as Wi-Fi.
  • There is a high demand for quality public transportation nationwide, but such infrastructure is often missing in the places where people currently live.
  • Fifty-eight percent of survey respondents said their ideal neighborhood contained “a mix of houses, shops and businesses,” but only 39 percent currently live in that type of neighborhood.
  • Mass transit attracts the wealthy as well as the poor. In New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Chicago, people with a salary of $150,000 or greater are just as likely to ride public transportation as people with a $30,000 salary.

“There is a desire for reliable, quality transportation in communities across all regions of the U.S., and among riders of all ages, backgrounds and financial status,” said David Bragdon, Executive Director of TransitCenter. “Unfortunately, this desire is largely going unmet, to the detriment of many local economies. To serve and attract residents and workforces today and in the future, cities need to unite land use and transit planning to form comprehensive, innovative infrastructures that can support this demand.”

The report is based on an online survey that TransitCenter plans to update regularly. Bragdon said that one innovation is the increased number of transit options in suburban areas for people who don’t plan to move to the city, but who still want some of the conveniences of city life. Daybreak, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City, for example, now has a buses, light rail stations, sidewalks and bike lanes. Planners say Daybreak took a “transit first” approach to new community development rail stations.

According to Bragdon, the survey will be updated and conducted regularly to track changes in transit rider attitudes and regional trends over time.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.