Some of the key challenges that local officials may face when working to improve the health of the built environment include are: assessing needs, understanding special populations, forging partnerships, identifying funding and resources and reaching and engaging the public. This section addresses each of these challenges.
Taking steps to provide a built environment that promotes physical activity, increases access to nutritious food and reduces exposure to safety risks and environmental hazards benefits all segments of the community. However, specific subsets of the general population may be especially vulnerable to particular health effects and may benefit most from certain actions. Conducting an initial health assessment to determine community needs and trends constitutes an important first step in understanding their needs.
One of the most powerful approaches that cities and counties have used to achieve ambitious goals for creating healthy neighborhoods is partnering, particularly in an era of tight budgets for local agencies and community organizations.
Working alone, an individual local agency may lack the resources, knowledge or reach to accomplish major change. However, partnering with others provides a way for local officials to develop a common agenda for action, leverage resources and tap into outside expertise. In short, combining the efforts of individual partners can greatly magnify the effects of healthy neighborhood policy and program initiatives launched by local agencies.
Finding ways to pay for efforts to create healthy neighborhoods challenges all local officials involved in such efforts. Some policy changes have modest costs or can even save money; examples include crafting joint-use agreements with other public agencies to share facilities, such as athletic fields or community centers. But in many cases, initiatives to promote healthy neighborhoods entail some combination of local support and outside funding. Some of the most common sources of funding are described in this section.
Effective partnerships are not just about the individual organizations involved in a particular project. Because efforts to improve the health of the built environment involve a multitude of individual choices and actions, informing and engaging the broader community is essential. In a broader sense, the community can be considered a member of the partnership.
Involving the public can help ensure that a local partnership’s actions appropriately reflect the views, concerns and priorities of key segments of the community. This in turn can lead to enhanced buy-in for local actions and a growing reservoir of community support as the partnership’s efforts take hold over time.