Complete Streets to Promote Physical Activity

Modified and reposted from the Plan4Health blog site:

Interested in designing ‘complete streets’ for your community but not sure where to start? Here’s a slideshow of Dangerously Incomplete Streets that provides visual examples on how to assess your current streets and intersections. Thanks to the Eastern Highlands Health District of the Connecticut Plan4Health coalition for sharing this link!

Image from Pixabay

Studies are showing the importance of complete streets for the benefit of community health by reducing the reliance on cars and making communities more walking and biking friendly. One study from Copenhagen showed that it’s six times more expensive to travel by car than by bicycle (there’s a short informative video that sums up the study). Many cities are now looking into increasing biking infrastructure as a way to lower car emissions and increase health benefits to those who ride. However, a major issue that’s stopping many citizens from biking is the lack of connections made between existing bike lanes. This issue is discussed in a recent article from The Washington Post: Why cycletrack networks should be the next great American transit project.

Communities still have a lot of work to do when it comes to providing active modes of transportation through complete streets. While this Complete Streets toolkit is designated for the Southeast Region, there are many innovative activities and resources that can be adapted for your locality. Plan4Health Nashua is currently working on a Complete Streets Project, as well as Plan4Health Summit County of Ohio. Interested in learning more about Plan4Health, visit their site and comment for more details!

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Health Impact Assessments: Get in the Know

Planning, also called urban planning or city and regional planning, is a dynamic profession that works to improve the welfare of people and their communities by creating more convenient, equitable, healthful, efficient, and attractive places for present and future generations.- American Planning Association

Healthy communities; how else can a community survive and thrive, whilst remaining sustainable past generations? Health Impact Assessments are one tool that can be used to “integrate health into the decision-making process and enhance communication between multiple stakeholders, including health and planning practitioners and policymakers.” HIAs examine the health impacts of programs and proposed policies and projects using a systematic six-step framework to promote health equity. Recently, I published a post about the impacts of HIAs in the planning field and how they allow for cross-sector collaborations. Working at APA’s Planning and Community Health Center is giving me more knowledge than I could have ever imagined about health impact assessments, and also the collaborative efforts happening with various coalitions across the U.S. through the Plan4Health project.

For further information on Impact Assessments, visit Human Impact Partner’s site on Health Impact Assessments. To get you started, here’s a neat 2 page HIA-Fact-Sheet! The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) and APA collaborated to produce a free Planning for Healthy Places with Health Impact Assessments course, where you can learn how to administer HIAs and use as a future resource. NACCHO also has an extensive toolbox of health materials and projects.

If you’re interested in learning more about Health Impact Assessments, please review the Plan4Health webinar from Monday, July 20th. The session featured work from the American Planning Association’s partnership with The Pew Charitable Trust’s Health Impact Project as well as examples of HIAs conducted in community settings.

Participants will learn about the state of HIAs in planning, including a brief introduction to HIAs for less-experienced listeners, and will have the opportunity to engage with members from three Plan4Health coalitions: Health by Design in Indianapolis, IN; the Inner Core Community Health Improvement Coalition in Metro Boston; and the Chronic Disease Prevention Advisory Board in Columbus, OH.

Building Repairs May Lower Crime Rates: Is this even a Question?

Here’s an article I came across that discusses the deeper roots about crime within communities with struggling and/or decaying buildings. I think there are many obvious reasons such as long-term poverty, lack of political priority, as well as public and mental health issues that all combine to help determine crime rates in a city or even further into distinct neighborhoods. It only makes sense when one stops to consider how our built and natural environments affect us that we can then start to make some connections between crime rates and decrepit buildings- to me this is obvious.

Homes that have been foreclosed upon and boarded up usually signal that the neighborhood needs help, and typically what comes with that are some urban problems that may be stereotypical but often sadly play out in the real world. Boarded up homes don’t look good to outsiders or those within that community- it’s a constant visual reminder of distress, which only brings on more stress to those that are directly affected by having to witness these homes everyday. Not to mention the activity that can go on in these abandoned buildings- criminal matter, stray animals or simply a dry place for the homeless to sleep in- these buildings can often be hubs for attracting nuisances.

In the article, it talks about an ordinance that Philly used requiring that all abandoned homes have working windows and doors if the neighborhood is 80% inhabited, and thus houses cannot be boarded up. Think about it- most of these homes were in working condition and at least livable before they were vacated, so what’s the point in boarding up perfectly good homes? Naturally, to prevent people from going in. But Philly has taken these steps in efforts to decrease the negative perceptions within communities that have seen vacant homes pop up through parts of neighborhoods. How one perceives where they live impacts their health and productivity, and I’m glad that at least one city is taking this into consideration. A quick search also led me to The Vacant Property Coalition of Detroit. Taken directly from their site:

Michigan Community Resources provides The Vacant Property Coalition of Detroit as a platform to unite diverse residents and neighborhood-based organizations across the city. We equip them with the knowledge, tools and resources to address community concerns related to vacant property through education, advocacy and community-driven problem solving.

I’m glad to see there are a few places out there attempting to do some systemic work towards this issue and I’m sure there are more out there. If you know of any organizations or ventures out there that are working towards keeping housing usable rather than boarding up neighborhoods, join the conversation!