Multnomah County/Portland, Ore.

    • January 11, 2010

From its position in northwest Oregon, Portland, might be one of the most mapped cities in the country.

Not in the traditional cartography sense, but through GIS (geographic information system) mapping. In recent years such tracking has detailed the full landscape of Portland’s built environment, from fast food outlets, grocery stores and farmers' markets to park entrances, walking routes to schools and transit infrastructure.

Now the same high-tech datasets will be used in low-income communities to increase their access to nutritious food and opportunities for physical activity. With funding through Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities, a public-private partnership will turn a GIS lens on affordable-housing developments on the city’s east side.

“We already have quite a bit of GIS mapping done on a regional level,” project director Noelle Dobson said. “Now we will use such mapping to find the inequities in neighborhoods that are at risk of poor health outcomes.”

This approach, the ultimate intersection of urban planning and health determinants, will help identify places where it is easier to find a bag of chips than a piece of fruit. Early work already has pinpointed a neighborhood where no resident lives within a half-mile of a grocery store. Some residents take a half-hour bus ride to shop for food.

The initiative will move forward with the involvement of families living in higher-density housing. Adults and youth alike will discuss the barriers they face in healthy eating and active living. The anticipated focus groups will acknowledge the many races, ethnicities and cultures represented among residents: African-American and Latino, Asian-American and American Indian, even Somali and Slavic.

Participating teens will go a couple steps further, scouting their communities with cameras in hand to document what they’ve described. Their photos will be central to public presentations and discussions with local leaders and policy-makers.

The lead-off community is part of the Powellhurst Village-SE 122nd Avenue corridor in outer southeast Portland. The area has little open space, a fragmented sidewalk system and incomplete transportation network, as well as a lack of schools and services to accommodate its lower-income families.

Healthy, Active Communities for Portland's Affordable Housing Youth and Families, as the initiative is named, is headed by the nonprofit Community Health Partnership: Oregon’s Public Health Institute. It includes the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, Community Cycling Center, Kaiser Permanente, ROSE Community Development, Village Gardens and other housing, health and advocacy groups.

Whatever strategies it ultimately picks as best for supporting healthy eating and active living in affordable-housing populations—whether community gardening or incentive programs for developers—policy change will undoubtedly be at their core.

“We want all Portland residents to be able to live in a neighborhood that has health built right into the environment,” Dobson said.

Back to map