Healthy Cities

Joyce LeeBy Joyce S. Lee, FAIA, LEED Fellow, President, IndigoJLD

Join the USGBC-Missouri Gateway Chapter for two upcoming in-person events featuring Joyce Lee: “Healthy Cities + Policy Implications” on May 12 and “Green Design + Human Health + Social Equity” on May 13!

Health is a state of complete physical mental and social well-beig and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity,” according to the World Health Organization.

Healthy cities – what comes to your mind? Fresh air, citizens walking, bicycling or jogging, smiling faces, just to name a few. This article discusses why a comprehensive approach is needed and delineates a selection of examples around the country that could serve as inspiration for other communities.

The Washington Post, in early 2014, hosted a forum called “Health beyond Healthcare” that highlighted community infrastructure and investment to improve health. Below is a convergence of factors that play a role in healthy communities:

Housing | transportation | food access |socioeconomics | Education | work environment |built environment |natural environment |public safety |Prenatal and Child development | Community and social capital

The economics are equally compelling. According to the Trust for America’s HealthTrust for America’s Health, “A $10 per person annual, investment in community-based prevention over five years could produce 5% reductions in type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart and kidney disease, and stroke — with ROI of $5.60 for every $1 invested.”

Smart Scale Experiments – Wellville
How is the country responding? One of the latest small city competitions is called HICCup for Health Initiative Coordinating Council. A well-known tech investor, Esther Dyson, has started a grand experiment to enlist small cities in a friendly challenge to help communities become healthier places inhabited by healthier residents. Selected from 42 contestants, five small cities or counties—each with a population of 100,000 or less—are taking part in “The Way to Wellville.” They are Muskegon, Michigan; Lake County, California; Spartanburg, South Carolina; Clatsop County, Oregon; and Niagara Falls, New York.

In addition to existing community partnerships, Ms. Dyson launched an investor mindset to health promotion. “The Wellville Challenge fits perfectly into the work of greater Muskegon, to achieve the ‘1 in 21’ goal, led by the Muskegon Health Department and the Rotary Club, to become the healthiest county in Michigan by 2021. It also amplifies our health mission at United Way,” says Christine Robere, President and CEO of United Way of the Lakeshore.

Healthy Corridors and Land Use
As health is a core component of thriving communities, the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Building Healthy Places Initiative is building on work that links human health and development. Auto-dependent roadways have long been an area of health concern. With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, ULI is investigating best practices to reinvent under-performing suburban and urban arterials in health-promoting ways.

The first examples are: Los Angeles, Denver, Nashville, and Boise, Idaho. Rachel MacCleery, Senior Vice President from ULI, said, “Too many commercial corridors are dangerous, dismal, and dirty. This project is working to re-envision them as healthier places, with active transportation options, better land use patterns, better food access, and other health-promoting characteristics.”

Philadelphia Food Trust
The Food Trust, based in Center City of Philadelphia, ranked #2 “high-impact” nonprofit in America in children’s health and nutrition. In its two decades’ history, the Food Trust has worked with neighborhoods, schools, grocers, farmers and policymakers in Philadelphia and across the country to change how Americans think about healthy food and increase its availability.

With partners, the Trust brought supermarkets to communities in food desserts, helped corner store introduce fresh produce, low-fat dairy and whole grains, introduced healthier food options in schools. A recent study by the Philadelphia Department of Public Health found that – for the first time in decades – the obesity rates among Philadelphia school children decreased by 5 percent between 2006 and 2010. The healthcare cost savings can be significant when the years of care are reduced dramatically.

Intersectoral Collaboration – Stair Week
Policy interests could be ignited in many ways. Designers as a non-traditional health partner create new alliances or invigorate existing ones. Stair Week is a program that brings together the health officers and the built environment sectors to focus on physical activity and good design. As Americans spend more than 90% of waking hours indoors, good stair design motivates students, employees, retirees alike. And while it seems like a small change, taking the stairs routinely can have a big impact on health.

The Stair Week proclamations received from governors in Illinois, Maryland, and Michigan are an affirmation of these smart choices. “We know ‘place matters’. Design and health is a strong emerging issue at the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and their sustainability priorities. It’s a great topic for local advocacy where architects can make a big difference in health outcomes,” said Mary Ann Lazarus from St. Louis, AIA Resident Fellow.

Join the USGBC-Missouri Gateway Chapter for two in-person events featuring Joyce Lee: “Healthy Cities + Policy Implications” on May 12 and “Green Design + Human Health + Social Equity” on May 13. 

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