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The American Planning Association is Integrating Health and Planning

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The Mount Hope Coalition to Increase Food Security is working in the Mount Hope neighborhood of Providence to educate youth and adults on the health and economic benefits of producing locally-grown food. As a capacity-building grantee, one of their first tasks is to recruit at least 10 community residents to participate in hands-on training about using alternative methods for securing fresh, healthy food. This training model develops the capacity of that community to grow community gardens, beginning with the growing season this year.

“The community identified that they wanted to work on nutrition; they identified that they wanted to work on locally-grown foods, but they are still building their coalition, so it’s emerging work,” Ricklin said. “They did have a first garden built last year, but they want to diversify their coalition and they want to reach out and build more gardens.”

The Mount Hope coalition is focusing on vulnerable populations in the community, especially multi-generational households. The coalition is engaging residents representing multiple generations to assist in removing barriers to healthy food through participation in community gardens.

By engaging residents of all ages to assist in community gardens, Mount Hope Coalition hopes that residents will feel a sense of community ownership while reducing food insecurity.

 

Dane County, Wisconsin

Dane County includes the city of Madison, Wisconsin (Credit: wisconsin-explorer.blogspot.com)

Dane County includes the city of Madison, Wisconsin (Credit: wisconsin-explorer.blogspot.com)

In Dane County, the Capital Region Healthy Communities (CRHC) Initiative applied for Plan4Health to combat high rates of inactivity, obesity, diabetes and racial disparity in health outcomes.

CRHC’s strategy was to increase access to physical activity and nutritious food by developing an Active Living Index, a data portal that brings together health data with built environment data.

“By blending those two types of data, planners, transportation departments and health officials can better target places with inequities and use the portal to support policies and system changes,” Ricklin said.

The Active Living Index will also provide decision-makers with information on the economic impact of changes to the built environment. The Index highlights how to capture the return on investment and ensure that the most effective improvements are prioritized—and that the power of population-level impact is understood.

The goal is to make streets walkable, so every resident has the opportunity to walk to the grocery store or bike to school. The coalition is considering rural, urban and suburban sites in order to make interventions replicable in communities across the state.

Plan4Health Outcomes and the Future

Although every Plan4Health coalition is different in scope and strategy, they all have one thing in common: bringing together members of the the planning and public health communities.

“The broad goal of Plan4Health is to fully integrate planning and public health on the local level,” Ricklin said. “Full integration is not going to happen in the couple years of this grant, but if we can incentivize and support that integration through short term projects, that’s a start, and it can carry forth into other areas.”

Ricklin sees clear evidence of relationship-building and indications that those relationships will be sustained long after Plan4Health is over.

APA has the benefit of being a national organization with a far reach through their 47 local chapters across the country, who hear about Plan4Health consistently through direct messaging from APA National, as well as from within their local chapters.

“More than half of the states in the U.S. and more than half of the APA chapters have been awarded in Plan4Health,” Ricklin said. “They’ve been working in a really hands-on way on these Plan4Health projects in local communities, and then bringing the information and lessons learned to colleagues in their state.”

The golden opportunity in Plan4Health is to leverage local networks through APA Chapters and APHA Affiliates to bring messages and experiences to local colleagues and put these context-specific strategies into practice.

“It’s one thing to hear from a colleague across the country about what they’re doing, but it’s so much more meaningful to hear it from another colleague in your state,” Ricklin said.

In the future, Ricklin would like to see the coalitions, and the relationship between planning and public health, grow stronger. She would also like to see the relationship institutionalized in local governments.

“We shouldn’t have to scramble for extra resources to be able to do this kind of work, it should just be a part of life,” Ricklin said.