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Partnering for Healthier Communities

“Your zip code is more important than your genetic code in determining your health.” So said David Erikson, director of the Center for Community Development Investments at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, in a presentation I saw a couple of years ago. He supported this with a map of the Cleveland area that showed stark disparities in life expectancies in different but not too distant neighborhoods. This startled me out of my community development silo and made me appreciate how the goals and challenges for community development and public health issues are linked and interrelated. According to Dr. Doug Jutte, executive director of the newly formed Build Healthy Places Network, people get sick because of their social and physical environments. Health happens in neighborhoods, and community development is in the neighborhood improvement business.

David has continued to make presentations at conferences hosted by several Federal Reserve Banks in his efforts, along with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, to bring the health and community development sectors together.The Cleveland Fed presented the latest conference, “Building Healthy Communities Ohio”, in Columbus October 23. Over 160 individuals representing both public health and community development organizations came together to exchange ideas, learn about collaborative efforts, and explore new partnerships.

It was an event where I could virtually see light bulbs turning on as attendees connected health and housing in completely new ways. A great example of a combined model was presented by Carol Naughton, senior vice president of Purpose Built Communities, a nonprofit that works with local leaders to plan and implement neighborhood revitalization projects that are designed to break the cycle of poverty with creating healthy and sustainable communities. In 1995, the East Lake Meadows neighborhood was challenged with poverty, poor housing, and high crime rates. In addition, the school in the neighborhood was one of the lowest performing schools in Georgia. The Eastlake Foundation invested in the neighborhood by building a mixed income housing development, with planning input by residents, and includes a cradle to college education pipeline through a charter school, and community wellness programs through coordinated service delivery. The result—lower crime rates, higher employment rates, superior educational outcomes. If a healthy neighborhood is a place where people want to spend their time and invest money, East Lake Meadows is the epitome.

The conference agenda featured panels highlighting additional innovative approaches to merging community development and health, investment models, as well as a closing discussion on how state policy might help facilitate connections and synergies. Check out our website for the event’s agenda, presentations, and video of the conference. Hopefully, they’ll make you think differently about the intersection of health and community development.

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