Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Convergence of Health and Place-based Policy

Place governs our lives.  Our physical environments impact our behaviors, our choices, and our life outcomes.  More recently, the Obama Administration has explicitly endorsed place-based policies and increased interagency coordination in their social policy approach.  However a number of placed-based programs existed in prior administrations including, the Community Reinvestment Act, housing redevelopment through HOPE VI, Empowerment Zones, New Markets Tax Credit investments, as well as foundation-led comprehensive community initiatives and local nonprofit ventures.  Promise Neighborhoods, a program established by the Obama Administration is an addition to the list as is The Building Neighborhood Capacity Program and Choice Neighborhoods.  The question is, why focus on place, and how do place, community health and wellbeing relate?  

In the last few years, a body of research has been growing which argues for the significance of place-based investments.  Xavier Briggs, in his text, The Geography of Opportunity, shows why segregation persists and how it undermines education, job prospects, and even health and safety for millions of minorities and low-income families.  More recently, Enrico Moretti’s book, The New Geography of Jobs, speaks to how America’s economic map shows growing differences between communities and how labor and employment is causing growing geographic disparities in all aspects of our lives, from health and longevity to family stability and political engagement. 

Given this literature, a number of states and cities have begun to think about the myriad of ways in which place, essentially where people live and work, affects the health of children and families.  The program Safe Routes to School, a national partnership, has many statewide and local initiatives, including in Arizona, California, New Jersey, Illinois, and Maryland to name just a few states.  This initiative is focused on providing youth with safe streets and access to school, while simultaneously promoting active living environments for children and their families.  In Takoma Park, Maryland, Safe Routes to School has worked with local officials to improve sidewalks and trails for enhanced student safety and walkability to and from school.  Further, SRTS has hosted an annual 5K walk/run for students, as well as organizing National Walk to School Day to support health and active lifestyles early in life.

In another initiative in the Twin Cities in Minnesota, community groups, ISAIAH, TakeAction Minnesota and national community intermediary PolicyLink launched the Healthy Corridor for All Health Impact Assessment (HIA) project to understand the potential impacts of the proposed transit-oriented land use changed on the communities that live in a proposed light-rail corridor.  They conducted a Community Health Impact Assessment to assess the impacts of the rezoning proposal on community health, health inequities and underlying conditions that determine health in the area known as the Central Corridor.  This case is a great example of improved ways of looking at the affects of land-use or other place-based policies on community health.  

State policymakers concerned with providing healthy places for children and families to work and go to school – should consider these strategies.  Partnerships like Active Living by Design and Leadership for Healthy Communities provide great resources for policymakers focused on improving the places located in their jurisdictions – and by way of that the health outcomes of the families in their communities.
For results-based policy strategies to improve health outcomes for children visit


  1. People should become more aware of their health and safety. Good thing there are many blogs like this that provides the people with quality information.

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  2. These strategies are fairly new, so how do we know if they are working. Autoclave