How can we design communities to be healthy? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by John Moon, District Manager, Community Development at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, on Quora:

Place has a profound effect on our well-being. The physical features of "place" and communities have a significant impact on health. Consider the neighborhood I'm fortunate enough to live in where I have miles and miles of biking, jogging, and walking paths that are extremely accessible; quality grocery markets for fresh foods; walkable and safe streets with sidewalks where my son can walk or ride his bike to a friend's house even at night; ready and easy access to public transportation, including light rail; and the list goes on and on. Consider also that many communities that don't have these kinds of amenities, not surprisingly, have worse health outcomes. It's not a surprise then that despite the best efforts to be healthy, some communities will be more advantaged than others, and we need to level the playing field so that all people have equal opportunity to live their healthiest and most fulfilling lives.

These are just the physical features, but when we talk about how community design impacts the "social determinants" of health, we find the same level of disparities between communities. Jobs and housing are primary drivers of health, and how communities are designed and planned to support quality/affordable housing, a vibrant local economy, and access to transportation (particularly public transportation) will affect health outcomes. Creating space that facilitates social cohesion, another important driver of health, in a way that encourages communities to come together through public parks, libraries, walkable and safe streets, public art that reflects the community, are all examples of elements that improve health. The current challenge around gentrification and displacement can degrade health for the people who can no longer afford to live in their communities as they face longer commutes to work, emotional/financial stress, social disconnection from their community, and poorer quality of housing. Better community design such as more housing density, closer housing development near public transportation, and more housing that includes a greater mix of income levels could all improve displacement pressures, for example.

The Federal Reserve along with major foundations (Robert Wood Johnson, Ford, Kresge, JPB, the California Endowment) and three other partners (Low Income Investment Fund, Enterprise Community Partners, and the Natural Resources Defense Council) launched an initiative called the Strong Prosperous and Resilient Communities Challenge (SPARCC - SPARCC), a $90 million effort to invest in six sites across America to reduce health disparities, racial equity gaps, and climate vulnerabilities through the design and investments in communities.

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Published on: Mar 30, 2018