Aug 22, 2016, 1:45 PM, Posted by
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.
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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Jul 12, 2016, 4:48 PM, Posted by
Urban planning plays a role in addressing health challenges in America and can help give everyone the opportunity to live their healthiest lives possible.
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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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.
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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Mar 29, 2016, 11:00 AM, Posted by
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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Sep 10, 2015, 3:35 PM, Posted by
Cleveland's MetroHealth Medical Center has reimagined itself to embrace community and build in thoughtful improvements to its programs and design that focus on everyday wellness and well-being.
In a room filled with architects, acting Surgeon General Rear Admiral Boris D. Lushniak shook up the common definition of our profession by saying that “if you are an architect, you are a public health worker.”
And many architects were already with him. We have been expanding our thinking beyond typical individual buildings to create healthy blocks, corridors and neighborhoods by shaping what they do within the property line so it’s responsive to what’s happening outside the property line. This in itself is not new, but doing so to improve health and wellness, while leveraging the resources of large civic-minded institutions, is a new approach to a traditional problem.
MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio has taken on this mindful, responsive approach while morphing from an isolated hospital into an inclusive community health center. This process flips the paradigm of health delivery; instead of focusing on the hospital as the first line of defense in the care and wellbeing of a population, it is now the last stop.
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Jun 22, 2015, 3:01 PM, Posted by
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.
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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Jun 1, 2015, 11:46 AM, Posted by
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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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.
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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Apr 9, 2015, 9:27 AM, Posted by
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.
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.
“The fact that a project like Via Verde can be created as affordable housing means that we can and should do this for everyone,” says Dr. Karen Lee, MD MHSc, of Dr. Karen Lee Health + Built Environment Consulting, and co-author of Active Design: Affordable Designs for Affordable Housing, a report based on Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-funded research. Her active design guidelines helped shape the project, and those in more than 40 other cities worldwide.
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