Mahnomen County is the least healthy county in Minnesota. The Mahnomen County Resource Group is determined to change this outlook and “protect, promote and improve the health and quality of life in Mahnomen County.” According to the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Environmental Health (2009), an environment in which physical activity is prohibitive means that youth inherit a society in which sedentary behavior is the social norm. The City of Mahnomen’s goal is to make the city more pedestrian and bicycle friendly through: newly painted pedestrian crosswalks on Main Street; four “stop for pedestrian” signs placed in intersections on Main Street; a new bicycle rack outside Red Apple Café; a handicap parking sign relocated to remove a barrier in the middle of a sidewalk; and “share the road” signs installed on streets near the school, boys and girls club, and the park.
Improving health through infrastructure
With an extremely low vacancy rate, it is critical for the City of Worthington to ensure that all rental units are up to code. As more and more people are moving into the community, the City recognizes that there are different standards of living among the residents. In order to maintain a clean and safe environment for all, a rental housing inspection ordinance was put in place. “Rental housing inspection is absolutely critical, especially in a community like ours,” explains Jason Brisson, Director of Community and Economic Development. “[When] you’ve got a substandard housing unit and you shut it down, you just created a new homeless person because there’s nowhere else in the city for them to go because we’re full everywhere.” Although the City is working to increase its range of housing choices, it is also working with landlords to address problems early on.
Access to sports and recreation have been identified in a study in Australia as a priority for newly arrived young people and the settlement process. Eagan’s population now includes large numbers of Somali, Indian, and Pakistani communities. To strengthen engagement with these diverse communities, the Parks and Recreation Department created space for cricket and soccer matches. “We see a lot more demand for things like, wide open soccer fields or space for cricket,” reflects Mayor Maguire. Soccer is one of the fastest growing sports in the country and its benefits are multiple: improves fitness & health, teaches teamwork & cooperation, develops improved coordination, increases focus & attention, and boosts self-confidence & self-esteem. Efforts to increase the numbers of members from new immigrant groups who use the park system are also on-going and run parallel to diverse offerings.
Eagan has been among Money Magazine’s top 20 small cities in America for five consecutive times. Part of the reason is that Eagan has made a concerted effort to create walkable neighborhoods and pedestrian-friendly spaces within an urban environment. Additionally, they have reconsidered housing density and mixed use development to accommodate a more diverse population, breaking away from the homogenized single-family dwelling in suburban cul-de-sacs and striving for options such as multigenerational housing and affordable housing. Eagan has close to 24% people of color, many new immigrants. By prioritizing and investing in pedestrian infrastructure and reconsidering density and zoning laws, Eagan is creating a built environment that strengthens the arts, businesses, and sense of community, promoting the health of all residents.
According to the Office of Disease Prevention & Health Promotion, “Health starts in our homes, schools, workplaces, neighborhoods, and communities” and is impacted by factors that range from water cleanliness to the nature of our social relationships. Woodbury THRIVES is a collaboration of civic, service, education, business, and healthcare leaders that help families build a strong foundation; expand access to affordable health services; invest in leaders who can help build a culture of health, and transform Woodbury in ways that make it easier for everyone to live a healthier life. “These players…coming together to understand how can we make a healthier community and defining community in a variety of ways, but also defining healthy in a variety of ways,” says Janelle Schmitz, Assistant Community Development. Woodbury THRIVES operates out of The Reserve, a coworking space in the midst of a vibrant community.
Photo credit: Simi Patnaik from Woodbury THRIVES
Central Park is a multi-use indoor park that provides a focal point for the City of Woodbury. The park links to the Washington County branch library and the YMCA, and houses School District 833 Early Childhood Family Education. With activities for children, teens, and seniors, the park is designed to bring a cross-section of the community together. The park allows residents to remain active and continue to gather in the winter months, enhancing residents’ well-being. At the same time, it provides rental spaces for community events that range from weddings to meetings, strengthening community connections.
Located in North Minneapolis, Kwanzaa Community Church thrives on the belief that every life is significant, every life has meaning and value, and relationships should be cherished and prioritized. Their outreach efforts include being a place of refuge from prostitution and the sex trade through their Northside Women’s Space. They were awarded the Public Health Award in the category of “Thirving and Violent Free Youth.” Minnesota is emerging as a leader in the fight against juvenile sex trafficking through laws such as Safe Harbor and models such as No Wrong Door that aim to “Ensure access to safe and supportive housing” for victims.
Kwanzaa Community Church
As the largest emergency hospital in Minneapolis, the Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) is open to all members of the community and recognizes the spiritual needs of different faiths. The new Spiritual Center can be found in HCMC’s Red building and is available 24 hours to patients, families and staff. HCMC’s Diversity Consultant Melissa Johnson discusses the motivation behind the new Center in stating, “We had a chapel before, but we knew we needed a space that was inviting to everyone that has some kind of prayer or meditation need.” HCMC also has a food program that caters to diverse preferences as well as exhibit spaces that showcase local artists and communities.
Hennepin County Medical Center
Health and well-being encompass many aspects, including a sense of purpose and belonging, physical health and a sense of security. Hmongtown International Market, located in Saint Paul, Minnesota, acts as a small glimpse of the streets of Southeast Asia, employing hundreds of people. This year-round, ten acre indoor/outdoor market houses a farmer’s market with fresh fruits and vegetables, a food court with Southeast Asian dishes, and over 200 vendor stalls. In response to growth, the market plans to expand.
Hmongtown International Market
Inadequate housing has been found to impact the health of immigrants (Fennelly, 2007). Many immigrant families tend to have a larger number of people than the typical American family and as a result, their access to rental apartment housing that can accommodate large families with four or more children is limited. The city of Hopkins is exploring ways by which housing can adapt to the changing demographics, as 20% of the city’s population now includes Blacks or African Americans, many of whom are Somalis with large families. Although developing 4-bedroom rental units was not possible in the PPL Oxford Village Project, this experience served as a lesson for how the market-driven development of housing in the US can be more responsive to the needs of the end-users. Units with three bedrooms and two bathrooms can be flexible and adjustable to diverse ways of living.
PPL Oxford Village Project
Photo credit: Laura Dunford of PPL