Hunt & Kendall: Healthier Communities Start With Kids

 

The small city of Hudson is nestled in Upstate New York and home to fewer than 7,000 people. The city was hit hard by deindustrialization in the late 20th century, facing economic decline as factories closed and industry jobs left. In recent years development has surged, with the opening of antique stores, restaurants and art galleries. The city has become a popular destination for tourists and second-home owners.

While our town is often celebrated as a story of revival, development has not benefited all of our community’s residents. For example, despite the presence of several high-end restaurants, there is still no grocery store. Rising costs have increased inequity, causing displacement for many families. Public funding is often directed toward maintaining Hudson as an attractive tourist destination versus addressing the needs of local youth and families.

Our organizations here in Hudson, Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood and Kite’s Nest, have been working in partnership with many community organizations and individuals to improve conditions for youth and families.

Last year we were one of six communities across the country that were selected to participate in Raising Places, an effort to explore and spark ideas on how to create healthier communities that are vibrant places for kids to grow up. Greater Good Studio, with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, designed and facilitated this work.

Supporting Families Where They Live

Where we live shapes how well and how long we live. To raise healthy kids, families need stability and support. Raising Places emphasized that what is good for kids is also good for communities as a whole—stable housing that is affordable and safe; robust public transportation that benefits residents of every age; public spaces that support play; and opportunities to participate in the local economy.

How communities are designed and built and the opportunities they offer, including the decisions their residents and leaders make, create paths toward or away from health and quality of life for families. Developing these opportunities by uniting community members and leaders is exactly what Raising Places was about. The project recognized that a collective effort was necessary for identifying barriers that prevent kids and families from thriving and for finding solutions tailored to each community.

Principles to Guide Community Transformation

Every community has its own challenges and assets. This was evident through the Raising Places communities, which ranged from a rural town of 450 people to an urban neighborhood of 60,000. Despite these differences, the principles we applied through Raising Places could be useful to any community:

  • Focus on children. Framing the conversation around the well being of children helps bring different stakeholders together and makes it easier to address complex issues. When we approach challenges in housing and jobs from the perspective of young people, we can make more progress in ways that benefit everyone.
  • Collaborate across sectors and perspectives. An important aspect of Raising Places was encouraging collaboration among diverse groups ranging from those working in community development to public health to early care and education. Individuals from across these and other sectors worked together as part of each community’s design team and came together around prototyping initial ideas—balancing clear group structure and clear ways for individuals to contribute.
  • Engage kids and families. It was just as important to bring youth and families into the conversations around the issues that affect them. Young people are rarely engaged as experts in their own experiences, and they provide valuable ideas and energy. And it’s critical that parents, grandparents and caregivers have a voice, especially when their kids are young and unable to advocate for themselves.

Click here to read the rest of the article from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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