What do health departments, public safety, community and economic development, transportation departments, and schools have to do with each other?When it comes to a healthy environment, the answer is simple: everything!
A lot of work goes into creating a healthy environment, and it takes more than a health department to make the necessary changes. We’re not talking about setting up a fruit stand and building more gyms. The real key to a healthy community is all around you – so much so that you may not even notice it. Safe parks where children can play; sidewalks and crosswalks for residents to use; access to public transportation; a good relationship with schools, and local and affordable fresh produce – that’s what makes a community a healthy place to live, work, learn and play.
The Department of Public Health, through our Mass in Motion initiative, works with cities and towns to develop multi-sector partnerships. Why? To create environments where it’s easy for residents to eat healthy and be active.
So, what do those partnerships look like exactly?
With plans to build a bikepath that will eventually connect most of the south coast communities in the state, Mass in Motion communities Fall River and New Bedford partnered up with organizations whose work goes beyond nutrition and physical activity and crosses into the realm of transportation and land-use planning. Not only are the Mayors of New Bedford and Fall River on board, but so are Economic Development and Planning offices, the Cape Cod Commission, the Department of Conservation and Recreation, and other path and greenway organizations that have all joined together to help turn the bikepath dream into a reality.
Unique partnerships are also being formed in Fitchburg, where they have a special focus on parks and recreation. Mass in Motion members there have teamed up with city officials, the Parks Board Commission, the Board of Health and the Recreation Department to assess the safety of their parks and create safer playgrounds where Fitchburg children can play.
Schools, where children spend most of their days, fit nicely into the mix as well. Mass in Motion Springfield took advantage of the existing relationship between the city Parks Department and local schools to create a joint-use agreement. This agreement now allows schools to stay open in the evening during the winter months so youth can be active in a fun, safe environment.
Gloucester’s Mass in Motion team worked with the City’s Department of Public Works and the Community Development Department to make incredible, much-needed changes to sidewalks, ramps, and streets throughout the city.
When it comes to creating a healthy environment, these non-traditional partnerships aren’t just a special advantage some communities have over others. Bringing these unique partners together allows for the sharing of expertise that each department or organization brings to the table. Working together allows for a complete approach to improving a whole community, and is the key to making long-lasting changes that really impact our lives and our health.