Article submitted by Wilma J. Wooten, M.D., M.P.H, Public Health Officer, County of San Diego
The nature of our communities and our relationships within them—our social environment—influence our health. Living in neighborhoods in which residents do not know or trust each other can increase negative stress levels. Living in communities in which residents do not have confidence in their government or do not believe they can affect change to better their lives also creates stress.
There is a greater understanding of how people living in neighborhoods with high crime and violence rates experience more chronic stress. Living and working in environments in which we feel powerless increases the negative health effects of stress.
SEVEN KEYS TO LIVEABLE COMMUNITIES*
Housing: Great communities provide housing opportunities for people of all ages, incomes, and abilities, allowing everyone to live in a quality neighborhood regardless of their circumstances.
Neighborhood: Access and convenience are important. Compact neighborhoods make it easier for residents to reach the things they need most, from jobs to grocery stores to libraries. Nearby parks and places to buy healthy food help people make smart choices, and diverse, walkable neighborhoods with shops, restaurants, and movie theatres make life interesting.
Transportation: Livable communities provide their residents with transportation options that connect people to social activities, economic opportunities, and medical care, and offer convenient, healthy, accessible, and low-cost alternatives to driving.
Environment: Great communities enact policies to improve and protect the environment (e.g., air and water quality) for generations to come.
Health: Community conditions influence health behaviors. Healthy communities have comprehensive smoke-free air laws, offer easy access to exercise opportunities, and have high-quality health care available.
Engagement: A livable community fosters interaction among residents. From social engagement to civic action to Internet access, residents’ individual opportunities to connect and feel welcomed help lessen social isolation.
Opportunity: Embracing diversity and offering opportunities to residents of all ages and backgrounds is important. Backed by a strong local economy and fiscally healthy government, welcoming communities provide residents an equal chance to earn a living wage and improve their well-being, from jobs to education.
HOW WE CREATE CHANGE
Positive change requires invested leadership and collective action. Collaboration between local policy-makers and community organizations to begin improving environments is key: City officials, urban planners, public health officials, and health care systems can work alongside community members to design neighborhoods that promote routine activity and social connection. State and national governments and organizations can bolster these efforts via financial incentives as well as with information and organizational support.
WHAT YOU CAN DO LOCALLY
I encourage each of you to take steps, large or small, to create a culture of health in your community. Together, we can make a difference in creating positive change.