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April 8, 2016 2:35 PMCategory: Nutrition, Physical Activity

APA 2016 Conference in Phoenix: Healthy Communities Interest Group Meet-Up

IMG_6097-2“Success looks like an EKG monitor.”

–          Healthy Communities Interest Group Participant

Cross-sector work at the intersection of the built environment and public health has its ups and downs, as one participant astutely reflected. At this year’s National Planning Conference in Phoenix, planners and other practitioners creating healthy communities gathered for the 2016 Healthy Communities Interest Group business meeting. More than 20 people from across the country joined us for networking, sharing stories, and envisioning next steps.

Sharon Roerty of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation kicked off the meeting with an introduction to the foundation’s vision for a country where everyone is healthy, and the Culture of Health framework to support it. The Culture of Health Action Framework combines shared value, cross-sector collaboration, healthier communities, and integrated systems to build a Culture of Health. This set the tone for robust discussion.

We spent the majority of our time together swapping stories with each other! The small and lively group discussions centered on current projects, ideas for future work, and challenges. We heard about pocket parks, stakeholder meetings, working with transportation engineers, art festivals, and university wellness programs. Amidst the diversity of projects, priorities, and community types, there were several key themes that resonated:

  • People—community members and decision-makers—are eager to make their communities healthy, but institutional procedures or routine processes can act as barriers, along with limited capacity and resources.
  • There are challenges in developing common language, common goals, and creating momentum.
  • Systems change takes time—we are talking about a culture shift!

Rather than becoming dispirited about all of the challenges, the tone was overwhelmingly positive. The wise words comparing success to an EKG serve as a reminder that it’s normal to struggle! Not only is it normal, it reflects that the outcome is worth fighting for—healthier communities where all people can thrive, regardless of zip code.

At the end of the meeting, we shared three things you can do now to build the momentum for healthy communities where you live, as well as keep the discussion from our small groups going—and invite all of you to join us as well!

  1. Join the Peer Learning Network—you are automatically a member at the “champion” level by joining the Healthy Communities Interest Group.
  2. Nominate your favorite healthy public space, healthy street, or healthy neighborhood to the Great Places in America program.
  3. Advocate for policies to support healthy, strong communities at the local and state level!

Contact Michelle at if you would like to find out more about the Healthy Communities Interest Group.