How does the protection of farmland correlate to the health of a community? Kane County, Illinois is working to find out.
Over the past ten years, their farmland protection program has preserved over 5500 acres of farmland in the county and they are currently considering a new amendment to broaden investments in local food production. New investments would include small farms and organic farmers producing fruits, vegetables and meats, intended to increase availability of fresh produce in schools, farmers markets, corner stores, and other sites in the community.
Enter the Health Impact Project. HIP is a project funded by the Pew Charitable Trust and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to fund Health Impact Assessments (HIA) that will be used to inform policies at any level of government. Kane County won funding from this project and is expected to produce their HIA next month with measurements from their community. The HIA will assess the ways in which their new amendment could affect the health of local residents through, for example, changes in availability and price of fresh fruits and vegetables, food safety, and economic changes resulting from increased food production in the region.
HIAs are conducted by a panel of stakeholders in the community to ensure that they are engaged in considering health and health disparities with any given policy. The assessment is completed in six steps:
A Health Impact Assessment has six steps:
- Screening: Determines the need and value of a HIA;
- Scoping: Determines which health impacts to evaluate, the methods for analysis, and the work plan for completing the assessment;
- Assessment: Provides: a) profile of existing health conditions, and b) evaluation of health impacts;
- Recommendations: Provides strategies to manage identified adverse health impacts;
- Reporting: Includes development of the HIA report and communication of findings and recommendations; and
- Monitoring: Tracks impacts of the HIA on decision making processes and the decision, as well as impacts of the decision on health determinants.
Kane County hopes to use this assessment to inform the debate surrounding their new amendment, hoping that they will find it could lead to improved health.
The Health Care Council of the Lehigh Valley is doing similar work much closer to home. They created a forum process where they engaged stakeholder organizations from the Valley to discuss their input on community health, and held two series of meetings. In the second set of meetings, they were able to bring back results and analysis from the first round. Participants in the forums were asked what they thought the biggest health concerns in the region were, what would help their community become healthier and what leads to health problems in their area. They were asked follow up questions to these in the second round of meetings.
In these public meetings held last fall, they found that the health care system and services are fragmented, that there is a lack of communication and connection between the community and care providers as well as poverty, lack of jobs and language differences being barriers of access to medical resources. There were also positive findings, the community responded that the local health care providers care about the community and were willing to listen to their needs as well as looking for short and long term solutions to improve community health. Their Community Health Profile breaks down their findings and the particular issues in each city, and can be found here.
The Greater Lehigh Valley chapter of Buy Fresh Buy Local (BFBL-GLV) has released a study that counters the popular perception that prices at farmers’ markets are more expensive than at grocery stores. (Click here to read the complete study on the pricing of farmers markets compared to grocery stores) No significant price difference was found between the two venues in the LehighValley. In fact, “Because there was a wide price range for produce at the Lehigh Valley farmers’ markets, it was always possible to find less expensive produce there than at the grocery stores,” says study author and Lehigh University Community Fellow, Laura Schmidt.
The study included pricing data for nine seasonal products (produce, meat and eggs) collected in the fall of 2012. Data was collected from four LehighValley farmers’ markets and two grocery stores and accounted for both organic and conventional growing methods.
“This study challenges the myth that food at farmers’ markets is always more expensive than at grocery stores.” says BFBL-GLV Director, Lynn Prior. “In addition, it shows that seasonal, locally-grown foods can be very affordable and cost less than food imports at grocery stores.”
The study will be incorporated into an Assessment Report for a Fresh Food Access Plan being developed as part of EnvisionLehighValley, and funded by a HUD Sustainable Communities Grant. Fresh food access forums for public comment will be hosted in March 2013 by Buy Fresh Buy Local and the Nurture Nature Center. (Visit www.envisionlehighvalley.com for event schedules and updates.)
The report will look at the assortment of businesses and relationships involved in moving food from our local farms to our tables. While there’s been great success with direct sales from our local farms to consumers, we are not doing as well getting local foods to wholesale buyers. Infrastructure is critical to move local food to wholesale buyers. The report will examine what we have and need in terms of infrastructure to scale up our local food system.
There are four designated food deserts in the LehighValley. The USDA defines a food desert according to census tracts. Communities qualify as food deserts if they meet two criteria:
- low-income communities (a poverty rate of 20 percent or more); and
- low-access communities (at least 33% of the population lives greater than 1 mile from a large grocery store).
Consumers in the LehighValley spend $1.5 billion on food each year; less than one percent of this is purchased directly from our local farms. The result is that most of our food dollars are leaving our region through purchase of food imports. By increasing the amount of food purchased from our local growers, we can help make farming more profitable and ensure that farmland & healthy, flavorful food will be available for future generations. At the same time, we will also be investing our food dollars locally and creating jobs right here in the Lehigh Valley.
BFBL-GLV is a program of the NurtureNatureCenter, a 501©(3) organization. BFBL chapters across Pennsylvania are coordinated by the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA), on behalf of our national partner, Food Routes Network.
The Health Care Council of the Lehigh Valley has taken an excellent approach to Community Health. Their recently released “The Road to Health” evaluates the health of the Lehigh Valley community. If you haven’t read through it yet, definitely read through it now.
This new report gives an excellent overview of the state of health in the Lehigh Valley, something Renew Lehigh Valley and the Lehigh Valley Research Consortium touched upon at the State of the Lehigh Valley luncheon in February 2012. But this report follows up on the call to action issued at the end of our luncheon; it shows where we are and where we have to go in order to be healthy.
A healthy community is a sustainable community. And it’s one reason why I wanted to highlight the Health Care Council’s work. When organizations like Renew Lehigh Valley and outreach efforts like Envision Lehigh Valley seek to plan for the future in a smarter and more efficient way, we often get into our silos. Yet, why can’t we see the larger picture? Envision Lehigh Valley may be one effort to plan for a sustainable future for the Lehigh Valley to ensure a high quality of life, but “The Road to Health” is doing the same thing just in a different arena. We all are working for the same goal.
It’s like a Venn Diagram. One outreach effort in the Valley is focused on land use and economic development, another is focused on community health, and yet another is focused on education and the connection to the neighborhoods. They all have the same goal, and that center area where all the circles overlap is where we must focus our efforts. If we are to make the Lehigh Valley a sustainable community, we must all work together and support our various efforts.
So, I encourage you to join us at one of the Health Care Council’s two health forums being held in our area. All those efforts in the Venn Diagram are seeking public input, as they should in order to truly have community support. So come out Wednesday, November 28th to the Fowler Family Center at Northampton Community College (511 E. 3rd St, Bethlehem) from 7-9pm OR join them Thursday, November 29th at the Salvation Army (144 N. 8th St, Allentown) from 7-9pm.
We’re all seeking to ensure a high quality, sustainable life in the Lehigh Valley. Let’s all work together to see the bigger picture, rather than individual puzzle pieces.
Everyone has different ideas about what makes a community. Eric Jacobsen, author and pastor, noted that “even if you get the physical elements right, there’s no guarantee that a place will function as a true community, as more than just a place.” That really struck me. Even if we create an aesthetically-pleasing facade for our streets, it doesn’t mean we will have a functioning and cohesive community.
The article I read this morning reviewed a fellow planner’s short list for keys to a stronger community. (You can read the full article here.) The planner, Scott Doyon, compiled the following list:
- Good governance
- Walkable, connected, mixed-use character
- Parks and gardens
- Neighborhood-responsive schools
- Tree culture
I must agree with Kaid Benfield, the blogger also commenting on Doyon’s short list, that I’m generally pleased with the list. I think it’s great to combine physical features with less tangible elements to create a sense of community. I also agree with Benfield when he notes that he would alter the list to include a point about controlling sprawl.
Here in the Lehigh Valley we certainly know about the sprawling development. But have we ever stopped to think about its effect on the sense of community? As development sprawls outward, we lose many of these elements that create a close and cohesive community. The neighborhoods aren’t walkable. It’s difficult to develop programming and events for people that don’t feel connected to one another. And I certainly agree that good governance is key; however, RenewLV would argue that this “good governance” should also be characterized by reduction of redundancy in the government. “Good governance” should be efficient and effective stewards of its resources, working through partnerships within the community and region.
Overall, I think Doyon and Benfield have the right ideas. Here in the Lehigh Valley we have such unique communities. But maybe it’s time we stop to think if we have all the proper components to be a truly cohesive and effective community. We must work together, and I think that means working beyond the municipal boundaries and extending to others. The Lehigh Valley has unique communities, but as a region I think we can work together to preserve and enhance these areas in order to become a regional community.
Ah yes, the old adage from the classic baseball film, “Field of Dreams.” Great movie, but the unforgettable line from that movie can be applied to a lot more than baseball diamonds. Did you ever think it could be applied to the Lehigh Valley?
According to the latest numbers from the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, the Lehigh Valley is expected to grow by another 145,000 by 2030. The US Census projects an even larger population growth. This means another 72,000 households will be added to the Valley, not to mention probably the same number of cars added to our roads and more strain on our utilities and resources. I’m not saying that growth is a bad thing, but it can be disastrous if not planned for correctly.
The Lehigh Valley uses about 26% of its land for residential purposes, while about 56% of our land remains “green space.” But how long will this last with the guaranteed future population growth? Will we continue to sprawl outward and develop this “green space” for more houses? Some of that open land may be used for housing, but wouldn’t it be better to plan for this growth now and preserve that open space? Though some may be frightened by the term, higher density housing is not a bad thing. It is not the reincarnation of the city tenements of long ago; rather, high density housing can encourage economic recovery, ease transportation by providing options for walking and biking, and provide alternative housing choices. It also allows for the preservation of open space, rather than allowing for further sprawling development.
It is imperative that we plan for this inevitable growth now. Why not build options and provide for these higher densities now, rather than waiting for the population to increase and not knowing what to do? Why not make our communities more sustainable and preserve the valuable open space we have? I’ve heard farmers mention at our Envision Lehigh Valley meetings that this farmland is some of the most fertile land in Pennsylvania. Why not keep it that way, rather than outward sprawl that will create more traffic and more strain on utilities?
It is inevitable that they will come; so why not build a community that world-class people will want to join? Why not provide options for a diverse workforce necessary to become the livable, equitable, and economically competitive region we know we can be?
The American Institute of Architects and the National Association of Counties recently released a report analyzing “green incentives” best practices. Many incentives have been used by municipalities over the years, but this report compiles case studies from across the country to highlight some of the best uses of green incentives to encourage sustainable development.
Green Building Incentive Trends: Strengthening Communities, Building Green Economies is meant to be a guidebook for municipal leaders to learn from national case studies in order to decide what green incentive program would work best in their communities. Obviously, every community is unique with different characteristics and challenges that may not work with certain practices. The AIA and NACo seek to provide a menu of options to municipalities through the handbook.
The report found the “most attractive incentives to the private sector were tax incentives, density bonuses, and expedited permitting.” The incentives were not successful alone, however. According to the report, green incentives are most successful and effective “when combined with robust advocacy efforts and strong support from the public.” It takes an entire community embracing the effort through a multi-sector approach to be successful. But it is important to note that such public support requires public engagement, two-way conversations, and community input that is taken into account during the planning process.
Replicable and transferable best practices are so important to collaboration and cooperation among regional partners, especially when things like green incentives are implemented on the local government level. Doesn’t it make sense for us to learn from other successful municipalities nationwide and then work with our regional partners to implement successful practices? Isn’t it logical for us to collaborate as a region to implement plans for a better community when we live and work beyond the confines of our municipal boundaries, yet within the larger Lehigh Valley? It seems like a no-brainer to replicate something that has been proven to better the community elsewhere and implement similar policies here in the Lehigh Valley for a greener, healthier, and happier region.
Smart growth has gotten a bad rap as a “liberal” plan that inhibits development and economic growth, while it forces people to live in overly densely populated areas through restrictive policies. Some opponents have cited the intrusive policies proposed in the United Nations Agenda 21, which was presented at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) and subsequently adopted by all attending nations. Agenda 21 is a lengthy document that presents many goals and strategies but was meant as a “comprehensive plan of action to be taken globally, nationally, and locally by organizations of the United Nations System, Governments, and Major Groups in every area in which human impacts the environment.” (A comprehensive look at Agenda 21 can be found at: http://www.un.org/esa/dsd/agenda21/.) Those who oppose these strategies believe the adoption of such policies would overly expand the role of government and interfere with personal choice, local flexibility, and community and economic development.
Well, Renew Lehigh Valley is here to say that this simply is not true. Smart growth is not and should not become a partisan issue. Policies utilizing smart growth planning are meant to reinvigorate a community and provide for wise and effective economic development. Rather than letting a piece of land be developed in any way, why wouldn’t a community want certain boundaries to ensure that the development enhances the economy, benefits the community, and brings jobs to the area for the long term? “Planning” shouldn’t be considered a bad word; it’s smart. And it has the community’s best interest at heart.
Smart growth does not force people to live on top of each other either. We all like a little personal space, but that doesn’t mean that we need to spread out and misuse open land for housing or development. This type of development only increases sprawl, which puts a strain on natural resources, infrastructure, local governments, and the community. Density, in itself, is not a bad thing. It’s overcrowding that should be avoided. Smart development of apartments and other dense living spaces can be functional and quite comfortable. Open space is then preserved in order to keep our natural resources pristine and to maintain the aesthetic beauty we all appreciate. Smart growth communities offer comfortable, walkable neighborhoods with plenty of green space. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?
If policy aligns with smart growth planning and development, it will only enhance the community. The government will not overstep its boundaries infringing upon personal liberties. Zoning laws aligned with smart growth policy and smart growth development are intended to preserve a community’s character while encouraging its strengths and improving its weaknesses. Communities that align their policies in such a way have proven to be revitalized and reinvigorated. Who wouldn’t want to live in a community with a thriving economy and a downtown that attracts visitors (which in turn attracts business and money!)?
Smart growth is not a nasty phrase or a terrible policy choice. It is a smart decision for our communities. This isn’t about politics; it’s about making the Lehigh Valley a successful, desirable community together.
Interested in learning more? Register for the second annual State of the Lehigh Valley event through our website: www.renewlv.org. Join in the discussion!
RenewLV and the Lehigh Valley Research Consortium announce the second-annual State of the Lehigh Valley community indicators report release event! Join us on Wednesday, February 15 from 11:30am to 1:30pm in Iacocca Hall at Lehigh University for a luncheon and report on the findings of the State of the Lehigh Valley 2011 study.
This year’s report focuses on the economy and employment, housing affordability, median household income, quality of life, and transportation. A special section has been added to highlight community health and health indicators. This year’s report also compares the Lehigh Valley to similarly sized metropolitan areas to get a sense of how our community measures up to others in the Northeast.
The event will feature a review of the report’s findings, a luncheon buffet, and discussion among community members and experts in the particular focus areas to encourage dialogue toward developing community solutions. Join us to work as a community toward a healthier, more successful, and more vibrant Lehigh Valley!
Last year’s event sold out and we have a 250-seat capacity, so register quickly! The registration fee of $25 includes your luncheon buffet. Details for registration and sponsorship opportunities can be found by clicking this link to our registration page. We look forward to seeing you there!
Sure, we all know that regular exercise and eating well are essential components of a healthy lifestyle and are important in fighting obesity. But rather than just telling people to go to the gym, how can we make physical activity a more realistic (and exciting!) option that will encourage people to abandon their sedentary lifestyles?
The authors and collaborators of the NYC Active City Guidelines propose active urban design as the key to promoting more physical activity and fighting the obesity epidemic. The Guidelines are the product of a collaborative effort between NYC public health professionals, architects, urban designers, and urban planners.
The Guidelines are grounded in the idea that the design of the built environment can have a crucial and positive influence on improving public health.
They propose interesting strategies as to how planners can transform the built environment to encourage more active lifestyles for its residents and visitors through stair climbing, walking, bicycling, transit use, active recreation, and healthy eating.
While they focus ostensibly on New York City, the Guidelines can also be applied to other cities and communities.
These are my ten favorite suggestions, and perhaps the ones most pertinent to communities in the LehighValley:
1. Consider shared-use paths in areas with viewing attractions.
- Check out Allentown’s plans to encourage active transportation: This Morning Call article discusses the plan to connect local bicycle and walking trails.
2. Explore bicycle share programs to increase access to bicycles for both city residents and visitors.
3. When designing sites that include parking, consider how the provision of parking can affect the use of more active modes of travel such as walking, bicycling, and public transit. In general, when parking is available, people use it. Research in California indicates that increased parking supply may result in reduced active transportation and public transit use. Design car parking so as to reduce unnecessary automobile travel, particularly when walking, bicycling, and public transit are convenient alternatives.
4. Locate new projects near existing public and private recreational facilities and encourage development of new facilities, including indoor activity spaces.
5. In the design of parks and playgrounds, create a variety of climate environments to facilitate activity in different seasons and weather conditions. For example, include sunny, wind-protected areas for use in the winter and shaded zones for use in the summer.
6. Design plazas that allow for diverse functions. Plazas can accommodate physical activities like dance and volleyball, passive activities like sitting and chess, and cultural events such as concerts, exhibits, and historical celebrations. Plazas can also provide space for café style seating and farmers’ markets. When programming plazas, consider the needs of users with varying mobility levels. Seek partnerships with community groups to maintain and program plazas.
7. Incorporate temporary and permanent public art installations into the streetscape to provide a more attractive and engaging environment. Seek collaborations with local arts organizations, philanthropic institutions, or other nongovernmental groups to create and help maintain the artwork.
8. Provide safe walking and bicycle paths between densely populated areas and grocery stores and farmers’ market sites.
9. Further develop Greenways—alternative routes that are integrated into the regional park system. Greenways feature relatively few intersections, many plantings, and a dedicated bicycle right of way. These routes can serve as commuter corridors during the week and recreational paths on the weekend. Connect Greenways to street bikeways.
- Join the Support Allentown Greenways facebook group to help transform Allentown into a biker and pedestrian friendly city!
10. Design stairs to be more visible, in order to encourage their everyday use.
When the annual County Health Rankings were released late last month, the Morning Call, Express Times and Patch reported on the very high morbidity numbers in Northampton County and Lehigh County. Meanwhile, these county rankings received coverage that looked at how other parts of the state were faring as well. Union County was ranked the highest [Check out WNEP news for more info] and Philadelphia was ranked the least in regards to health outcomes and health factors [Here’s the link]. Closer to home, both Montgomery and Bucks Counties ranked in the top 10 of Pennsylvania counties in terms of overall health [Here’s the link here for phillyburbs.com article].
Generally, the rankings showed that counties located in south and central Pennsylvania performed better than did counties in the northeast and northwest. Also, more of the urban counties are ranked in top half than the rural counties — this using the definitions of “urban” and “rural” developed by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania (The Center defines rural vs. urban Pennsylvania based on population density).
Amid these overall regional trends, in some cases the rankings show significant differences even among neighboring counties. Consider the area to the north of Harrisburg, where Union and Snyder Counties both are amongst the top five counties statewide in overall health, while adjacent Northumberland County is ranked in lower one-third. The factors that contribute to such great disparities among neighboring counties would lend itself to further analysis that could shed light on the local conditions that contribute to – or stand in the way of – good health. (As a side note: For an interesting resource on county-level conditions across economics, demographics, and other areas, check out Patchwork Nation – an interactive data site.)
While considering how Pennsylvania counties fare among themselves, it is important to look at where Pennsylvania stands nationally on support for public health. Public health infrastructure in Pennsylvania clearly lags that in others. For its population size, Pennsylvania has the lowest number of public health professionals. Also, according to a study released last month, public health spending in Pennsylvania is very low itself. Here’s the link.
Ultimately, failing to adequate support public health is a short-sighted policy and an unwise investment of public dollars. As noted in the local coverage of the county health rankings [Patch article], we either invest upfront in public health and prevention or we spend far more on what it takes to address illness and injury after they occur.
What is impressive and valuable about the County Health Rankings is not only the numbers themselves, but the huge potential to use these data to improve the health of our communities. Look here to see how people can take action. Patrick Remington, who is the University of Wisconsin Professor and has lead the County Health Rankings report, remarks that the County Health Rankings report is a teaser to catch interest. The point is get people to take some action towards the health of their community.
The current work on establishing a regional health department for the Lehigh Valley represents an important step toward building a strong system of prevention and health promotion for our region. For more information on this effort, visit RenewLV’s Regional Health Initiative page.