Faces of Smart Growth: New Partners for Smart Growth Conference Attendees

Feb 9, 2012, 3:38 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth


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.

Avtar Nijjer-Sidhu

Senior Health Educator

Public Health Services Department, County of Kern

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.


Ashlee Halbritter

Public Health Prevention Service Fellow

Richmond City Health District

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

Baltimore, MD

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.


Alexander Frane

Environmental and Emergency Management Specialist

SRA International

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.]

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