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Four Ways to Build Inclusive, Healthy Places for All

Jul 25, 2018, 11:00 AM, Posted by Sharon Roerty

Inclusive public spaces for all are a central part of healthy, resilient communities. A new framework can help ensure that processes for shaping these spaces lead to design decisions that promote equity.

Healthy Places Swing Set

It has been said that inspiration comes when you least expect it. My visit to Melbourne, Australia, inspired me to take an international look at place-making. I was standing in Federation Square, restlessly waiting for my daughter to finish her shift. I hadn’t seen her in nearly a year. I was wearing my mom hat, not my urban planner’s hat.

Nevertheless, as my eyes swept the Square, I had the sense of being in a very special place. And while I didn’t know it at the time, I was not surprised to later learn that Federation Square in the heart of Melbourne has been recognized as one of the best public squares in the world. Fed Square, built on top of a working railway, comprises sculpted and natural elements; it has small spaces like fire pits; and large and medium-size open spaces for planned and unplanned activity. There is a large TV screen that broadcasts international and national sporting events (it is not always on). The Square is open 24 hours a day; has free Wi-Fi for all; rest rooms; and no signs prohibiting activity or lingering. Restaurants open their doors to it; and transit lines and shops surround it.

I visited Fed Square daily for eight days, and what impressed me was how well it reflected Melbourne’s rich cultural diversity; how seamlessly it connected to the streets, buildings and facilities on its periphery; and how welcoming it always felt. It is a place for people—the well-heeled, the not-so lucky—and everyone in between. I should note, though, that Federation Square’s value as an open public space and cultural hub is currently being tested. Controversial changes to it are pushing forward sans public review and participation.

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How Housing Impacts the Health of People Living With HIV/AIDS

Apr 12, 2018, 3:00 PM, Posted by Safiya George

Inadequate housing is a tremendous barrier to achieving good health—especially when dealing with a chronic illness. A team of researchers is examining largely rural counties in West Alabama to assess the impact of stable housing on the well-being of people living with HIV/AIDS.

A row of homes.

We know that where we live, work, learn, and play greatly impacts our health. Especially important among these, and too often overlooked, is the impact of where we live. Housing is tied to health in powerful and inextricable ways. Think about the steps you take each morning to care for yourself, or each evening when you go to sleep. What would happen if you didn’t know where you would sleep that night, or weren’t sure how long you had until you were forced to find new shelter? Would you still take the time to go through your routines, if there was nothing routine about them? Would you set up relationships with health providers if you might not live in the same community next month—or even next week?

I faced homelessness twice and they were the most stressful experiences in my life. Lack of access to stable housing can feel like an insurmountable barrier to achieving good health and well-being—even more so when one is dealing with a chronic illness or other health challenges.

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What’s the Connection Between Residential Segregation and Health?

Apr 3, 2018, 4:00 PM, Posted by Donald F. Schwarz

Residential segregation is a fundamental cause of health disparities. We need to take steps that will reduce health risks caused by segregation and lead to more equitable, healthier communities. 

Graphic illustration depicting residential segregation from 2016 County Health Rankings & Roadmaps.

Editor’s Note: To commemorate the 50thAnniversary of the Fair Housing Act this month, we are republishing a post that originally appeared in 2016. Be sure to also check out the 2018 County Health Rankings which provide updated information on the impact of segregation as a fundamental cause of health disparities. 

For some, perhaps the mere mention of segregation suggests the past, a shameful historic moment we have moved beyond. But the truth is, residential segregation, especially the separation of whites and blacks or Hispanics in the same community, continues to have lasting implications for the well-being of people of color and the health of a community.

In many U.S. counties and cities, neighborhoods with little diversity are the daily reality. When neighborhoods are segregated, so too are schools, public services, jobs and other kinds of opportunities that affect health. We know that in communities where there are more opportunities for everyone, there is better health.

The 2016 County Health Rankings released today provide a chance for every community to take a hard look at whether everyone living there has opportunity for health and well-being. The Rankings look at many interconnected factors that influence community health including education, jobs, smoking, physical inactivity and access to health care. This year, we added a new measure on residential segregation to help communities see where disparities may cluster because some neighborhoods or areas have been cut off from opportunities and investments that fuel good health. 

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A Community Living Room For Immigrant Families

Jan 25, 2018, 3:00 PM, Posted by Jennifer Lin, Kari Lee

Chinatown is one of San Francisco’s densest neighborhoods, forcing many to live in cramped single-room occupancy hotels known as SROs. The Chinatown YMCA has developed a program to help families in SRO housing build a sense of community with others facing similar circumstances.

Homework

Dinnertime is stressful for Ruiyi Li, a married mother of two who lives in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

She has to wait in line for almost an hour to use a communal kitchen in the building where her family rents a single room for $400 a month.

Then there’s the problem of how to eat the meal. The family’s tight dwelling is slightly wider and longer than the size of a double bed, with no space for a table. Li, her husband, son and daughter must sit one next to the other on the edge of the lower half of a bunk bed, balancing bowls in their laps.

“Dinner is quick and fast,” Li says using the dialect spoken in her southern Chinese hometown of Toishan. “It doesn’t even feel like the family is eating together.”

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Can a Trash Can Reveal a Community’s Values?

Sep 21, 2017, 12:00 PM, Posted by Karabi Acharya

What can the U.S. learn from Copenhagen about use of 'placemaking' to foster healthier, more inclusive communities?

Bike-friendly Copenhagen street.

One of the most striking cultural symbols upon arriving in Copenhagen is the sheer number of cyclists navigating city streets—in fact bicycles outnumber cars!

But during my recent visit, it was the trash cans that actually caught my eye.

Just as in many U.S. cities, Copenhagen’s citizens can return used bottles and cans for cash. But, unlike other cities, Copenhagen’s trash cans are equipped with small “deposit” shelves on the outside to place recyclables. This provides an easier, safer, and more sanitary way of collecting discarded cans. Instead of digging through trash cans overflowing with smelly garbage and sharp glass, collectors can easily retrieve bottles and cans from these exterior shelves.

A small feature like this speaks volumes about how our public spaces can support social values like dignity and compassion.

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What You Need to Know About Hospital Roles in Community Investment

Mar 15, 2017, 2:00 PM, Posted by Donald F. Schwarz

As anchor institutions, hospitals and health systems are well-positioned to invest resources in creating healthier communities—a few are already leading the way. Their valuable lessons can help others rethink the role hospitals can play in improving health beyond their walls.

Mother pushes kids on a tire swing.

Hospitals have a long tradition of serving as anchor institutions within their communities—not only by providing health care, but by hiring local workers and contractors, buying locally, and building new clinical facilities.

But you probably wouldn’t think of hospitals as financial investors in their local communities. Nor might you consider them experts in managing community revitalization efforts. And yet, why not?

Hospitals as Anchor Institutions for Community Investment

Hospitals and health systems have unique assets that go far beyond their clinical offerings. These include deep community connections and relationships, the ability to make loans, expertise in real estate, finance, and project management, and significant property holdings. All of these can collectively be leveraged to benefit both the community at large and hospitals themselves.

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6 Reasons Why Parks Matter for Health

Aug 22, 2016, 1:45 PM, Posted by Teresa Mozur

As the National Park Service celebrates its 100th anniversary of beauty, recreation, and conservation this summer, we asked six leaders why access to public land is vital to everyone's physical and mental health.

A couple looking at the mountains. Yosemite National Park

The National Park Service celebrates its centennial this week, and our national parks have never been more appreciated; visitors made a record-breaking 307.2 million visits to them in 2015. But what many park goers may not realize is that the access to natural scenery and park activities national parks provide play a role in improving health. In fact, research shows that using public parks—even tiny local ones in your neighborhood—contributes to health in a number of ways, from promoting physical activity to improving mental health and even having the potential to reduce health care costs.

To celebrate this milestone in American history, the Culture of Health blog's editorial team asked six leaders to give us their reasons why parks matter for health.

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At the Intersection of Urban Planning and Health in the New York Metro Region

Jul 12, 2016, 4:48 PM, Posted by Mandu Sen

Urban planning plays a role in addressing health challenges in America and can help give everyone the opportunity to live their healthiest lives possible.  

A man rides his bike through the street.

More perhaps than any place in the world, the New York metropolitan region is known for its urban form—its physical layout and design. From the Manhattan skyline to the neon lights and tourist-packed streets of Times Square to the rolling hills and winding paths of Central Park, New York’s built and natural environment is part of what makes it such a vibrant, dynamic place to live. The distinctive form also has important health impacts. But, as discussed in a new report, State of the Region’s Health: How the New York Metropolitan Region’s Urban Systems Influence Health, these impacts are often poorly understood.

The report, written by the Regional Plan Association (RPA) with support from RWJF, provides an in-depth look at health in the New York metropolitan region, where 23 million people live in cities, suburbs, villages and rural communities stretching from New Haven, Connecticut to Ocean County, New Jersey. It finds that New York region residents live longer than U.S. residents overall, but they are not necessarily healthier.

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How Can Partnering with the Housing Sector Improve Health?

Jun 8, 2016, 11:00 AM, Posted by Pamela Russo, Rebecca Morley

Collaboration between public health and housing sectors can vastly improve the quality of life within communities across the nation.  

A row of homes are under construction.

The house that Robert and Celeste Bridgeford bought in Curry County, Oregon over a decade ago wasn’t just old. It was dangerous. Water damage and thin walls wracked by decades of severe storms unleashed wide swaths of mold. The damaged floors put the whole family at risk of falling, especially Robert, disabled years ago by a work injury. “We had always planned to replace the house, but... then...life happened,” says Celeste.

The Bridgeford family—like a third of Curry County’s residents—lives in a prefab house that is manufactured in a factory and then transported to the site. About 40 percent of the prefab housing in Curry County is substandard. With little industry in the area, many families struggled to find work and couldn’t afford to fix or replace their homes.

This all started changing in 2013 when community groups, non-profits and public agencies joined to propose a pilot project for the state of Oregon. This project would, for the first time, provide low cost loans or other funds to help prefab home-owners repair or replace their homes.

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Why Every Street Should Be an Open Street

Mar 29, 2016, 11:00 AM, Posted by Sharon Roerty

How can streets get people moving and improve health? When they are open, with room for people of all ages to bike, walk, play, and build community.

Every street should be an open street—open to people with and without wheels, all abilities, all ages, all people. Streets belong to everyone. They connect us to each other and the places where we live, learn, work, and play—across neighborhoods, cultures, and economic status.

Streets are the vascular system of our cities and regions. They let us explore and experience our communities and all that they have to offer.

Most of the time, however, they are overrun by cars. At peak hours, traffic clogs the main arteries, automobile fumes foul the air, and blaring horns assault the eardrums.

What if one day a week we all left our cars at home and took to the streets on our own two feet? What would happen?

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