Creative ways to Engage a Community

tRAILConcerns about rising levels of obesity and cardiovascular disease have led to a considerable amount of attention to how the built environment can be designed to create more opportunities for physical activity.  I’ve said it before, ones address can play an important role in how long we live and how healthy we are. The physical design of a community affects our health every time we step out the front door.

As I have gotten more involved in Community Health Initiatives I have had the chance to meet and explore a lot of great community projects such as the Atlanta BeltLine, Carrollton Greenbelt, Active Living Spartanburg South Carolina and the Team of Mules in Maury County Tennessee.

Community Health is a concept that has been around a long time but we have seen a tremendous amount of energy and concentration within the past couple years, and it starts with the built environment.  The Built Environment meaning green spaces and trails or sometimes the lack-off.

Take for example the Atlanta BeltLine and what it means for the community of Atlanta – a 22 miles HISTORIC rail corridor being converted into a multi-use path.  Now add unique technology elements from Social Media Platforms, Daily Tracking Devices, Virtual Maps and Gamification and one can only imagine how creative this can become in rewarding the community for being healthy.

When I launched the Running Series for the BeltLine back in 2010 I had crazy ideas around mingling technology into the picture, basically a way to socially connect participants with community events and reward their accomplishments.  In the second year we had a lot of prizes where participants could redeem their points for merchandise, such as a free case of vitamin water from WholeFoods or tickets to an upcoming Ballet – it was real cool.

So we expanded out and started talking with a lot of other communities and uncovered some real cool things going on, for example:

In Maury County Tennessee nearly one third of the population is considered obese and even more are overweight. This has prompted the Wellness & Aquatics Complex to encourage change in the community.

teamofmulesMule Day has been a long time running tradition that attracts over 200,000 people annually. The Mule Kick 5K in recent years has also become a staple of the Mule Day traditions, with 870 participants running last year’s race and growing every year. The Wellness & Aquatics Complex decided to expand this effort further and propose a three month challenge to Maury County to lose a team of mules (8 mules= 8,000 pounds) by Mule Day.

Another recent example is Tanner Health System in Carrollton Georgia as they were a recipient of a Community Transformation Grant from the CDC for over $1Million.  Community Transformation Grants are handed out to Non Profits focused on community development initiatives.  They set up a community wide weight loss challenge and a list of fitness events.  They also have their own version of the Atlanta BelgreenbelttLine – a 16 mile trail being developed in the community – The Carrollton GreenBelt.

The Carrollton GreenBelt is a 16-mile trail system designed for pedestrians and non-motorized uses. Once it is complete, the trail will connect existing neighborhoods with the city school campus, the University of West Georgia, the city parks, and several commercial shopping areas. The Carrollton GreenBelt is the largest greenspace and greenway conservation project that the City of Carrollton has undertaken.

Yet another great program is occurring in South Carolina, Partners for Active Living transforms Spartanburg County, South Carolina into a vibrant, healthy, connected community. The history of the organization dates to 1996 when a study commissioned by local leaders called Healthy Spartanburg found cardiovascular disease and obesity to be among the greatest health risks facing Spartanburg. Partners for Active Living, which was originally called Heartwise, was created to help address the problem. In 2003, the organization changed its name and shifted its focus to address the root causes of cardiovascular disease: physical inactivity and poor nutrition.

PALPartners for Active Living frames takes a three pronged approach, which all point to healthy eating and active living: childhood obesity prevention, trail development, walking and bicycling for everyone.

Within each of the three focus areas, they address the following:

  • Places to be healthy and active
  • Programs that encourage activity
  • Policies that sustain our work over the long term
  • Partnerships that build a strong network of support for a healthy community

These are all amazing examples of organizations that are leading the way to healthier communities and creating fun challenges to engage participation. A common element all these initiatives have are new trails/greenspaces and of course some sort of web presence or reliance on technology — or better stated they are all trying to figure out the best way to use technology to create ‘sustained’ engagement in the community.  In a future blog we will talk more about how technology will play a pivotal role with these initiatives.

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