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.

Planning for children, by children

Photo credit: StoreFrontLab.org

I wanted to share a few resources I’ve come across on the American Planning Association website that are meant for planners who are targeting children as key components to the development of a community plan. I find it odd that amongst the buzz of community engagement and participatory work that there is not more of a push from the parents, stakeholders, or planners for that matter to get more youth involved in the process. Of course there are planners out there who are utilizing the brilliant minds of children for unique and creative approaches to development of cities and what’s in them (here’s a great example). Frankly however, I don’t think we talk about it enough. As a learning planner, all of the literature I’ve come across when it comes to engaging with the community for input has been specifically directed at attaining opinions and ideas from adults. Yes that’s important, but what about the kids? If it’s the children who will someday be the future planners and inhabitants of the current neighborhoods, streets and developments we’re producing, then shouldn’t we do more to engage them and build a better place with their wants and needs in mind?

Through my perusal of the APA site, I found an entire page devoted to planning with children in mind and also part of the process. On the education page there is an entire Youth and Teachers sub-page that provides a few resources for how to get children engaged in the planning process, understand what a planner does, and even teach city planning and engagement strategies to youth from curriculums. The curriculums are downloadable and obviously can be modified, but are great places to start for planners who want to visit schools to get student’s input but don’t have an idea on how to get started. Also, the fact that you could inspire children to some day be future planners is just awesome, along with that you’ll be connecting with people in the community that matter who typically don’t have as much of a way to be “heard”: teachers and children.

Metropolis: A Green City of Your Own is one curriculum meant for grades 3-6, produced by a third grade teacher and planner:

Packed with illustrations and exercises, it is intended for use by elementary classroom teachers and other adults who seek to expose children to a variety of urban forms from around the world. The city elements presented in the lessons are edges, districts, public spaces, landmarks, and transportation — taken from Kevin Lynch’s book Image of the City. These elements provide an organizing mechanism for children to design their own ideal cities.

The Urban Natural Guide is a re-printable document that allows planners to interact with a community of their choice through probing questions based off of Jane Jacobs’s style of inquiry. These simply approachable questions challenge you to look at the surroundings, and can be adopted to help children tell what they notice and value also. There’s a City Detective lesson plan that definitely seems more suited for children in middle school or high school, but the plan is completely able to be scaled down for K-5. This plan would be a great “plug” for planning, geography and design careers to children through mapping and history. Finally, the resource printout is a great reference for how to incorporate planning activities in the classroom at every grade level (beginning with grade 4) and also has resources for interested teachers. You can read Youth Participation in Community Planning to find supplementary materials and ideas for how to engage with youth in their communities in appropriate but valuable ways, and see where it’s been done well! APA even has their own blog just for youth engagement planning- check it out at Kid’s Planning Toolbox.

Happy planning!

Automobile Reliance v. Urban Fabric- What’s at Stake?

On reading the post Urban automobility, a dead paradigm that we refuse to abandon.. from the blog Scientia Plus Conscientia, I was reminded of just why I, as a future planner, want to work in the planning field. His post talks about the automobile and the reliance on it overtime, and how ultimately is just unnecessary in many large or megacities. It often creates more of a hassle through traffic and road design and has lessened the social fabric and vibrancy of cities over time. Through suburbanization and a societal built-up reinforcement that the automobile is king, it has disconnected people from their place as they travel about the city in their shielded vehicles, isolated from their surroundings and other people, and thus limiting their interactions with everything around them.

To put it simply, as a planner, I am in it for the people’s interactions with their environment. I’ve always been keen on these interactions since my beginnings in anthropology and later sustainability and civic engagement studies. Seeing how people interact with their “place” and what their sense of place is and means to each person, has just always been of a huge inquiry and passion. When a city becomes dominated by the automobile, that urban fabric, the social interactions and street ballet that Jane Jacobs would refer to, becomes limited naturally so. Many people would ask: “How can a city survive without the automobile?” I’m not arguing that we need to get rid of cars altogether, especially with the point that we would need to figure out how to totally adapt the emergency services as well as long-haul deliveries of goods. But I do think that urban planners and stakeholders could really push for more public transportation methods that could decrease the primary reliance of the car. As Scientia Plus Conscientia writes:

A cleverly and densely laid system of tramways, subways and trolleybus can effectively and cleanly deal with the necessary mobility of millions of people, not to mention that people can be encouraged to walk or cycle. Taking cars out of the streets liberates the space for living and meeting, which leads to enormous positive social side-effects because people start having more opportunities to meet and knit the social mesh, something that it is often lost in modern megacities. We have some good examples of this at hand: Vauban, Freiburg (Germany), Pontevedra (Spain) or Hydra (Greece), where parts of these cities have been closed to car traffic and had then been reclaimed by people as living, playing and meeting space, positively contributing to the local social well being and democracy.

Photo credit: Metro Jacksonville

Photo credit: Metro Jacksonville

A common practice amongst planning committees is to establish a “road diet” within heavily congested cities. This usually means taking out a few roads, or reducing lane sizes on roads, in order to improve other transportation methods throughout the city and/or promote social and commercial interactions. Many international cities are developing their own ideas on how to combat against the automobile and bring the streets back to who they were built for- the people! In 7 Cities that are Starting to go Car-Free, various methods are described such as re-designing streets for pedestrians only like in Madrid, doubling bike lanes in Paris, or encouraging the building of “Green Networks” (roads designed for bikes and walking between various city parks) in Hamburg. Sometimes these initiatives begin as simple experiments, but when the city leaders and transportation or environmental analysts see their positive effects on lowering emissions, traffic, and sometimes increase social spots, they will plans and policies. Some cities are even offering incentives by not driving vehicles, while other cities are witnessing coop or share businesses growing for bicycles or smaller, low-emission cars.

I think that if planners want people from any living area to reduce their reliance on the automobile, they do need to make it easier for the people to make such changes. Incentives and positive reinforcement, just like in education and training children or pets, works great! A system of consequences can also work well, as long as they are strictly enforced, and also made publicly known to civilians. I also think that these decisions should not be made by just the planners or officials, but should actually be mostly developed by the citizens of the community. There are many companies now (this will be in a future post of mine) that work with city officials and planners to get citizen involvement in the decision-making, development and implementation processes. Often times when plans are not made by the citizens, they are not received positively and feel more like an imposition, thus reducing morale and productivity of the policy or plan. When people are engaged in the process of decision-making, there are usually greater results in pride and common goal construction, as well information and resource sharing[1]. Bright Spots is one report that I can share, but there are many other reports out there on the web. This report was found on the awesome website National League of Cities, and they also have a commentary WordPress blog CitiesSpeak. In the end, civilians, planners, and leaders all need to figure out just what they want to prioritize in their communities and just what will work for them. By continuously giving in to the car industry, and pretending that environmental or public health problems- let alone our heavy reliance on oil to power automobiles, we are just denying ourselves the chance to better our communities. Sure it may take some hard work and a bit of ingenuity and borrowing or meshing together of ideas, but isn’t that chance for healthier, livable communities worth it? I think yes.

[1] Head, B. (2007). Community Engagement: Participation On Whose Terms? Australian Journal of Political Science, 42(3), 441-454.

Garden Planner- A Resource for the Food Planner

garden plan

As a resourceful planner, I thought I would see if the Farmer’s Almanac had moved any of their brilliance online, as a way to share resources and farming techniques with others who may not buy the paper almanac. It turns out they did! I discovered on their site Garden Planner, an entire free 30-day resource that allows you to map out your garden space! You can your planning page for $25 for yearly access in order to make modifications to your garden, as well as make additional plans (the free trial only allows you to make one plan). This planner allows you to be realistic about your garden space and how it will be used up within every square foot

There are some tutorials on the main site, as well as a gallery where you can view published garden plans and even look up ones close to where you may live. Plant grow guides are available for most plants, and the site also allows you to add plants they may not have, and edit information about them to publish for future use. The plant varieties are customizable but most varieties are already on there, including organic and hybrid plants.

This site is extremely helpful because it provides a printout of when to sow your plants indoors, outdoors, and when to harvest them according to the month. It can even send you email reminders for when to sow if you allow it! I’m including my garden for a reference, but just want to say that as a visual learner and planner this site really helped to take my ideas and turn them into reality without the scariness of making the drawing accurate. Thank you Farmer’s Almanac Garden Planner!

A spark that lights the candle.

This post serves to be not only my first ever post to my first ever blog, but also attempts to explain just what this blog is meant for and why I am starting it. As a new regional planner in graduate school, I have quite a varied background. In undergrad I varied my studies between social justice, policy, anthropology, environmental sciences, and community organizing. Since leaving undergrad, I have seen my roll in social scenarios to usually serve as a connector, either of networking people to other important people or to resources and information that I find worth sharing. I’m a person that believes that everything is connected in some sort of fashion, ultimately why I have chosen planning as the field I not only want to study but pursue in my professional career.

Since I am almost finished with my first semester of grad school, I needed an outlet where I could start posting the interesting tidbits of information I am finding- along with the numerous amounts of papers, websites, blogs, images, maps, etc. that I not only find interesting but also relevant to planners and those with a planning mindset. I’ve always enjoyed my somehow endowed role as a connector, and so I want to share what I have learned with others, in hopes that my blog can be a resource with a set of tools that can arm every planner’s “knowledge toolbox”. The mindfulness is relative in that it will be my conscious duty to make sure that what I do post is current, relevant (no posts on recipes-that’s for another blog), and that anything posted as “historical” is also accurate.

On the topic of mindfulness, I also have been incorporating the practice of mindfulness in my daily life…baby steps. Many studies have said that over time, Mindfulness Practice can help reduce the body’s reaction to stress triggers while also helping with focus and memory of daily tasks. This is a journey I started a while ago, but now full swing into grad school I find becomes more useful and enjoyable to explore each day. Often times when beginning something new that requires being “in the moment” like in mindfulness practice, yoga, or even writing this blog post, it is usually difficult to get started. Getting in the zone, or “in the moment” takes time and lots of practice, and so one has to get comfortable with being uncomfortable- a phrase I heard back in my undergrad years that has stuck with me. This uncomfortable state of unfamiliarity when starting something new or what we have decided is “hard” can be unsettling and is often the source for why many of us procrastinate and doubt our abilities.

I was reminded of this message this past weekend while at a symposium discussing the relevance of constructing a community design center in Holyoke, MA. In a series of presentations given by local community members and college professors, a lot was discussed without much resolution- just a greater understanding of what to consider was the major takeaway. One Anthropology professor at UMass Amherst, Jonathan Sosa, was giving a presentation on the necessary use of ethnographical social mapping when considering how to work within a community. I hadn’t considered using ethnography as a way to socially map a city, especially in the planning field; needless to say since my roots are in Anthropology this resonated with me and I am excited to make this a part of my engagement strategies with communities in future planning practices.

Holyoke has a strained history with the local colleges, as many have used the struggling city more like a testing lab for surveys of project ideas without often much community participation or real implementation. Sosa mentioned that in any sort of work that involves collaboration with disadvantaged population groups, there can be a tension that is felt but unspoken. Planners, social workers, and other community workers can often be seen as know-alls and experts, and often carry some degree of higher education. He discussed that it is important to recognize and be aware of your privileges when entering any social situation, and to use the uncomfortable feelings in a productive manner to reach greater understanding about yourself and the other group you may be interacting with. He coined it “productive discomfort”.

I left there charged to engage deeper with this “productive discomfort” more in my daily life. I also left feeling extremely motivated to finally start this blog since I felt that I finally had the right title that would serve best to articulate what in fact this blog would be dedicated to. I hope you are inspired after this post in some way- whether that is to consider sipping your coffee mindfully, listening to someone else mindfully, or the fact that there will be significant content on here that you are excited to read!