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.

Equity at the Center of HIAs: An Emerging Planner’s Perspective

This post will be featured on APA’s Sustaining Places blog, so I wanted to share with my blog community here. Thanks for reading!

Today marks my third official week since beginning an internship with the American Planning Association at their Planning and Community Health (PCH) Center in Washington, D.C. Within these last two weeks I’ve been exposed to quite a whirlwind of information, events, conference calls, and meetings (including a few that had free food!). I have to say that I feel very privileged to have this opportunity to come to “work” where I get to learn about all the things I’m passionate about and research all the topics I’ve always wanted to investigate.

At PCH, there are several projects that I’m involved in, either directly or indirectly, and while there is lots of overlap amongst them, they each have their own unique focus! Many of the projects are still in the developing stages, which have allowed me to see where they have begun while simultaneously jumping in head first to drive them forward. These projects will promote webinars, fact-sheets, and toolkits that APA will share with fellow planners as well as the general public, which is part of their vision in leading research and education in the planning field.

One project, Health Impact Assessment’s Role in Planning, will analyze a targeted list of Health Impact Assessments (HIAs), their presence and effectiveness in the planning and public health fields, and address where they are headed in future planning strategies. Over the last 10 years, planning and public health have begun to collaborate, and there’s acceptance that these fields should in fact be working together. At the Planning and Community Health Center, we are working towards Health in All Policies (HIAP) by promoting public and community health strategies in planning, with HIAs being one tool.

A second project as part of Planning Tools for Health is producing tools to help public health and government officials, along with planners, in support of reaching healthier communities for all. So far, two fact sheets have been produced: Health into the Comprehensive Planning Process and Safe Routes to Parks. Be on the lookout within the next few months for the final fact sheet: Green Infrastructure for Community Health. Another project, Plan4Health, is a joint collaboration with the American Public Health Association and funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You can learn more about Plan4Health on their site, but in essence their goal is to foster “creative partnerships to build sustainable, cross-sector coalitions.”

This past week, I was able to attend the 3rd National HIA Meeting here in D.C. with fellow staff, where we could “choose our own adventure” and select sessions that aligned with our personal interests. The major theme throughout this conference was equity as part of all things considered health, and further, health planning. As a learning planning and policy student with a strong background in community organizing, I have always felt strongly towards the importance of effective community engagement as part of the planning and policy processes. For clarity purposes, the CDC Health Equity Guide states that “Health equity means that every person has an opportunity to achieve optimal health regardless of: the color of their skin, level of education, gender identity, sexual orientation, the job they have, the neighborhood they live in, and whether or not they have a disability” (p. 2) Through most of the sessions, equity, how to effectively include equity as a component in HIAs, and how to achieve equity in plans and policies was continuously reinforced.

Standing among so many professionals from various sectors, I was deeply moved by the belief that equity should always be part of the public health and/or planning process, and further mirrored in the policies that stem from these fields. It was a refreshing reminder to hear from the diverse and overwhelmingly dedicated speakers that we should always be striving to effectively engage within our communities that will be affected by the plans and policies produced. Community engagement cannot simply be hosting a public meeting, counting the attendees and checking it off as done.  Equity is about making sure that throughout the planning process—not just the engagement piece, but the entire start to finish—those directly affected by the plan are in “the driver’s seat”, as so eloquently put by Lead Organizer of ISAIAH Phyllis Hill. We all were left reinvigorated to continue our work with more passion and a greater commitment to equity and, though we may be in different sectors, are all still committed to the belief that zip codes should never determine a person’s health.

While at the conference, I was able to meet with many key partners that are working with APA to propel the Health in all Policies movement forward, as well as the use of HIAs in the planning process. Senior Associate Ruth Lindberg of The PEW Charitable Trusts met with members of PCH to discuss the summary report of HIAs that will be released this fall. Rachel Banner, Program Manager at National Recreation and Park Association, was also another collaborator present at the conference, who recently spoke at an APA directed webinar about Safe Routes to Parks. Many coalition members of Plan4Health were present throughout the various breakout sessions, as well as authors of the various HIAs that APA is researching. Besides planners, sessions were filled with leaders from public health, environmental agencies, sustainability departments as well as an array of epidemiologists, policy writers and analysts, elected officials from local, state and federal levels, community organizers, and non-profit leaders.

In closing, wise words were spoken by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Senior Program Officer Pamela Russo, “Multiple sectors need to work together to make health and well-being a national priority.” Rebecca Morley, Director of Health Impact Project, reminded all of us the importance of engagement, empowerment, and equity, and that we all need to be doing more to support more community-driven HIAs rather just community-engaged HIAs.

All of us at PCH were honored to take part in The National HIA Meeting and we are looking forward to attending next year. If you would like more information about any of the projects mentioned, please visit APA’s Planning and Community Health Center site.

Food Hubs: Criticisms and Considerations for Current and Future Sites

Recently on CityLab, an article was published on the recent plan of a Food Port in Louisville, Kentucky to be developed by 2016. This port is not the first in the States, and in fact there are many other hubs that are popping up around the country in efforts to provide local and regional food markets to typically more economically disadvantaged sections of cities. Some of these hubs are providing other services such as incubator kitchens and canning facilities, while some are looking into other mixed-use development options with drug stores and condominiums. This project is being developed and funded by Seed Capital Kentucky, a nonprofit committed to locally-sourced food products and the partnerships that sustain this local economy. The Food Port is part of the many projects currently underway led by Vision Louisville and other important stakeholders throughout the Metro area, as a revitalization strategy for the western part of the city. Vicky Gan writes:

Seed Capital originally conceived of the development as a food “hub” in 2013, but renamed it the “FoodPort” this year, after the concept evolved to incorporate a kitchen incubator, food truck plaza, demonstration farm, classrooms, and even an anaerobic digester to convert the facility’s organic waste back into usable energy.

The article is pretty convincing and answered most of my questions I had that ultimately doubted the fate of the project. I’m still left with some criticisms, though not to this specific project but of these food hub/port efforts in general. First of all, many of these projects are doing some good when they are taking unused land parcels and redeveloping them, often in the more blighted spots of cities. However, I’m wondering how these projects will affect the immediate constituency that reside in the surrounding area. Many of these projects claim to offer local employment opportunities as well as a more equitable source of healthy food options and the increasing benefits of “community”.

How will these hubs affect the other marts and convenience stores within the area that are serving as the local economy, as well as the price of land and tax revenue from this redevelopment? While these projects claim to bring education, employment and economy into a more regional and local vision, where are the local constituents’ voices and opinions throughout the planning process? What are the engagement strategies being used to source where these hubs should be placed, and see the greater reception of the local community and their ideas for how this can positively affect them? After doing some research, I haven’t found much mentioned and so I’m left with wondering, will these projects actually help the local under-served populations as they assert themselves to, or will they continue to cater to the “food yuppy”, usually more of the affluent background?

I ask the last question because on many of the project websites, the term “foody” is often used, and even Caroline Heine (Director of Seed Capital Kentucky) brings up the point that local food should not just be for “upper middle-class yuppies”. Who are these companies, their sites, and their projects’ marketing schemes seems to be in conflict with who these companies are developing for, or rather should be, developing with. When terms like “foody” are used in the marketing scheme, are these plans really as equitable as they claim? Why do these developments need to be advertised with the “foody” in mind, who often times is also the “upper middle-class yuppy”? If these plans are really meant to foster local economic growth and revitalization of struggling neighborhoods in cities, then how these plans are marketed and discussed needs to change in order to ensure that the people who will be most affected (and that the plans claim to benefit the most) are appropriately addressed and considered top priority throughout all phases of a plan. Jeff Farbman, of National Good Food Network, discusses the applications of these hubs in underserved neighborhoods and cities.

“If you have a city or philanthropic organization interested in reviving a city, locating [so-called] ‘light industrial’ is a great thing to do,” Farbman says. “You are talking about a bunch of jobs, the potential for multiple shifts, but you’re also talking about larger trucks. It’s unlikely to be located in the dense-population or high-wealth areas. I can see economically there is quite a bit of rationale for that.”

Looking at site locations of many of these initiatives, they are often located near interstates (which conveniently are developed through or around struggling neighborhoods). This is great because it offers access to inter- and intra- state commuters, as well as to truck-drivers that can transport goods from the surrounding farms outside of the city limits. Although, I am wondering how future transportation will be impacted in these neighborhoods, with these hubs offering various attractions and necessities to such a large and variable public? Will these hubs replace the farmer’s markets that have popped up throughout cities, and how will this impact the farmers that do not get a spot at the new food hub? How will these hubs mediate engagement with the various population and their income sources- will they accept supplementary income and how do they plan to engage and develop capacity amongst the lower-income constituents to take part in the local economy?

Though I have lots of questions, I think that overall these food ports and food hubs offer more good than harm. I couldn’t help but think about a city that is so dear to me, that I think could benefit greatly from this idea: Memphis. I lived in rural Arkansas for almost two years, and Memphis was like my second home throughout my time in Arkansas. I grew to know it well and as a planner and justice advocate, I always have it in the forefront of my thoughts when it comes to plans or policies and measuring their real intentions versus real impacts. After hypothesizing some places where a food hub could potentially go, I decided to look at the interactive travel-guide map of Memphis to see what would be nearby. Finding a site with similar criteria like the others was challenging simply because I don’t live there anymore. However, using the interactive map and referring to Google Maps, as well as my own memory, I have decided that somewhere along South Parkway West near Interstate 55 would be most appropriate. The map helped me discern from places near Bartlett, Midtown, Cooper Young, or East Memphis. However, when considering South Memphis, South Parkway and the Southgate Plaza Mall were screaming at me. Much of South Parkway consists of liquor stores, mini-marts, loan and credit companies, pawn shops, and has been given a reputation for crime and poverty. You can see the difference here at the screen shots from the interactive map from East Memphis to South Memphis.

East Memphis offers arts, music, museums, and many restaurants.

South Memphis offers clubs, casinos, and landmarks or trails.

South Parkway cuts between I-55 and I-240, and clearly there are no attractions visible except the airport down at the bottom right corner and Martin Luther Riverside Park to the left of I-55.

Obviously all of my previous criticisms and questions would apply here. There are so many buildings along South Parkway (West or East) that are either vacant or decaying, and has ample large parking lots and unused concrete land. Because of the vicinity to the two interstates, but mainly proximity to I-55 and the Martin Luther Riverside Park, along with the economic and social conditions current, I think South Parkway would be an excellent model site if Memphis would want to develop a food hub. Memphis is already a city known for its musical and food cultures, and is right on the Mississippi River surrounded by farms to the East and across the river. Bringing a local food economy as well as employment, and furthermore, pride amongst the many farmers and impoverished city and city outskirts folk, would be a significant improvement to not only the people but also the reputation for South Memphis.

The International Drama of E-Waste

While surfing the web, I came across this visual article titled “Computer Recycling in Africa“. This site also has other articles, videos, and is a unique recycling company that accepts donations throughout Sydney of e-waste. Looking through the pictures is pretty horrifying, knowing that these are not made up images of some made up people. Though I’m not sure which countries these are happening in, this form of “recycling” is also happening in other places like China and India. These are real people working with old computers and waste materials in unsafe conditions for little-to-no pay. If you’re not familiar with e-waste, it’s just short for electrical waste, which involves anything technological of the waste stream such as cell phones, computers, laptops, and televisions.

Men working to separate parts from computers to trade in the metal scraps for money. Photo credit http://free-computer-recycling.blogin.com.au/computer-recycling-in-africa/

What’s common with most e-waste of today is that if it’s not refurbished and reused in the country it was originally purchased, it is shipped internationally to countries in Africa or Asia to lay in wastelands, where local inhabitants have developed an economy on scrapping the metal, wires, and parts in order to trade for money or other materials. What is typical of this process is that there are often no regulations in the scrapping process and how these e-waste materials are handled, or who is handling them. In some places, there are settlements that are built on trash dumps, or very close by. Burning, burying, and extracting of the waste is commonplace, without much to be done about the chemicals that are let off into the air, ground, and local water. The saddest part about this is that it’s an understood international practice, usually promoted by countries with high GDPs that can afford the mass amounts of technological wastes and then ship it to countries less developed. Public health, the environment, wages, and thus lifestyles and equity are all jeopardized as part of this process.

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Chart displaying electric products and their disposal/reuse/recycle. http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/ecycling/docs/fact7-08.pdf

Some resources I found about e-waste if you want the numerical facts are here and here. While the sources have varying numbers, it’s safe to say that not enough of e-waste is being recycled and instead is being disposed of in harmful ways. It’s important to stop and think about the privilege many of us having reading this post all of the technology we possess and rely on on a daily basis. It’s even more important to stop and think before you trash your technology because you want/need to replace it, and even more to make sure that when you think you’re recycling, to verify and ask just where and how your electronic waste is being recycled. On the EPA there’s an eCycling page that displays information on where to recycle e-waste in the U.S. There’s an interactive page where you can lookup where to recycle different kinds of e-waste including stores like Best Buy and Staples, as well as the technology companies like Samsung and Panasonic. I know that Whole Foods also allows you to bring in electronic wires/cords and cell phones to recycle. I encourage you to look up where you can recycle your electronic products for the future, so you’ll be ready next time. Yes, it would be great if municipal waste management programs moved towards recycling electronic waste, but the funding for this is probably the largest argument against it. For the time being, it’s on each individual to be mindful and responsible for their purchases as much as they can, cradle to grave.

The Social and Health Inequities between Water, Sanitation, and People

Entire Collage

As part of my History and Theory course, we were tasked to create a visual project based on what we chose to focus on at the beginning of the semester. After toiling with many ideas, I decided I wanted to make a collage of photos pasted on canvas portraits that I had lying around for almost a year. Below I included the books and websites I used to find my pictures- there’s even an entire digital format with all photographs of the book How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis! If you hadn’t read it or at least looked at some of the photographs, do so- you’ll be able to see social mindfulness and visual ethnography at its beginnings and documentation of what it was really like to live during the industrialized period. Two other great books to learn about sanitation and clean water history and cultural implications of dirt history are Filth: Dirt, Disgust, And Modern Life and The Sanitary City.

My intention was to show a contrast of present times with the historical beginnings of sanitation methods involving water and clean cities, along with how human interactions with each other and their environments are dependent on the level of sanitation and access to clean water. The contrast of present day color photos with black and white photos from the past are selectively pieced so that black and white historical photos are in the background, though still always present in today’s times of color photos. Many of the photos show humans reliance on water and sanitation for many purposes, such as for drinking, sewer and waste removal, employment, cleanliness, and enjoyment. We see that humans’ struggles, resilience and forms of success through ingenuity with cleaning water and cities is an issue that is present over time, though manifests and changes according to trends and locations around the world and is often done with the aid of planners. Ultimately, lack of clean water and sanitation is a social inequity that leads to health decline in the environments and its people throughout history, and we see that this dynamic though may seem resolved, still needs much work to be done today in order to reach global, social and health equality.

*If you would like more information about where I got my photos from, and what sources I use, please ask. Also, this looked much better when it was hung up on the wall as part of the gallery walk through, but I forgot to take a picture…Each canvas has its own photo as well as the collective piece in one photo.

   

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Bottom Left Corner20141209_231723

Bibliography of Pictures

Cohen, W. (2005). Filth: Dirt Disgust and Modern Life. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

How The Other Half Lives, by Jacob Riis. (2012, July 12). Retrieved November 5, 2014, from http://www.authentichistory.com/1898-1913/2-progressivism/2-riis/index.html

Hoy, S. (1995). Chasing Dirt: The American Pursuit of Happiness. New York: Oxford University Press.

Kostigen, T. (2008, July 10). The World’s Largest Dump: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Retrieved November 5, 2014, from http://discovermagazine.com/2008/jul/10-the-worlds-largest-dump

Melosi, M. (2008). The Sanitary City (Abridged ed.). Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Parker, L. (2014, July 15). First of Its Kind Map Reveals Extent of Ocean Plastic. Retrieved November 5, 2014, from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/07/140715-ocean-plastic-debris-trash-pacific-garbage-patch/

Impact Assessments- Are they useful to planners?

To follow up on the last blog post, here I will discuss a tool that I find is very important (though relatively new) to the field of planning: Impact Assessments. I have linked my Prezi here, so you can get a bit of a sense where I am coming from, as well as some of the resources I used.

On the “What is Planning” page of The American Planner’s Association website, the first paragraph states:

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.

Healthy communities. How else can a community survive and thrive, whilst remaining sustainable past generations? While this may sound like a bold statement to make, please remember this is my personal opinion, and I do invite you to comment further and provide resources too! In my work over the years I have developed some questions that helped to guide my presentation as well as serve for further research purposes. These main questions are as follows:

  1. Why is healthy planning seen to be mostly a job for public health officials?
  2. If APA and CDC recognize need, why has it not become more of a priority amongst planners and policymakers?
  3. Should planners focus on the health of communities/environment when they develop their analysis and recommendations?
  4. What is being done to set the standards for all planners to make sure that health is a major consideration for every plan they develop and put forth?

The American Planner’s Association website states on its Health Impact Assessments page:

In practice, an HIA is part of a systematic approach to identifying the differential health impacts of proposed and implemented policies, programs, and projects within an equitable, sustainable, and ethical framework…The HIA is a valuable 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.

Despite this statement, I feel that planners are not being trained adequately to prepare plans that are not only sustainable, but with the health of people and ecology at the forefront. Although APA recommends the use of Health Impact Assessments or HIAs, most planners are not being prepared to use Impact Assessments unless they are also pursuing a policy degree at their accredited university. For further information on Impact Assessments, visit The Different Types of Healthy Assessments, and on Health Impact Assessments you can partake in the CDC free online training course for planners to learn how to administer HIAs! To get you started, here’s a neat 2 page HIA-Fact-Sheet!

Much of planning history has developed because of the responses needed to remedy certain building or health issues that we humans caused. I do believe the tides are turning and the field is beginning its stages of planning for the future, but overall there needs to be more preventive planning rather than reactive. I recently met with a person that works at the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, who originated in the public policy field but ended up working in educational and policy planning. I asked her about the use of Impact Assessments at PVPC, and she said they have used them before for certain ecological or community health projects. Like me, she believes they could be a greater resource to planners and policy analysts if used consistently; not all planners and policy analysts are using them, and furthermore there is no uniform recipe for how to create an assessment. While there are guidelines, only some factors are strictly enforced (more so for the Environmental Impact Assessments).

One paper published from the Department of Health Policy and Management at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health writes about Model Curriculum for HIAs that can be introduced to graduate universities. I think this is a great resource that proves officials are seeing more and more the importance of Impact Assessments. PEW Charitable Trusts has an entire site dedicated to upcoming projects and trainings that utilize health impact assessments for both public health officials and community developers, and here you can access many Toolkits and Data Resources. In my research, though I have not dissected its entirety, I have found this paper from the EPA website, A Review of Health Impact Assessments in the US, to offer an analysis of HIAs and their practicality, as well as areas for improvement.

I am positive I will write more on this in the future since it is one of my passions, but for now I hope you find the many resources I posted to be of help! I am happy to see that there are other planners and officials out there that see the value in using Impact Assessments for future policy and planning work, and I hope to see more efforts to make HIAs become part of standard training.