Health isn’t all it’s built up to be, in terms of hospitals, labs, etc. It’s actually everything that we’ve built around us. Far from the walls of a hospital building, the prospects for an individual’s good health and well-being are enmeshed with a community’s existing conditions, and especially with the community’s sense of trust in itself. These are the lessons that the City of Phoenix, SLHI and other partners are learning in a variety of neighborhoods and city areas.
A couple of themes persist, whether through our work with Maryvale on the Move or in our efforts to inform sustainable, healthy development along the light rail line. First, we must acknowledge and act on the fact that without personal safety, nothing succeeds. Worse, when crime and fear of the police (for real or perceived deeds) combine, you get a pernicious cycle that directly impacts community well-being and individual health. Next, we need to recognize that city ordinances initially put in place to help residents should not be permitted to impede their path to empowered health solutions. Things like the inability to start a community garden or the lack of after-hours access to school yards for recreation are understandable in their original intent but ultimately unacceptable if we are to develop cost-effective and sustainable solutions.
Given that being healthy is about how you live, then health must be found where you live. Hospitals and their associated resources aren’t predicated on keeping us healthy, but on treating us when we become sick. On the other hand, everything that our communities are built to be plays into either sustaining and improving or curtailing and impeding our health.
If we’re serious about reducing health care costs, a great place to focus would be our built environment.