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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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!

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.

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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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/