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Imagine Such a Place

By Risa Wilkerson on March 19th, 2018

"Imagine a place where everyone has a fair and just chance to lead the healthiest life possible—communities with high quality schools, good paying jobs, access to healthy foods and quality health care, and affordable housing in safe environments. Imagine a place where differences in race, culture, and perspectives are not only tolerated, but are celebrated as fundamental to health and wellbeing. Imagine that this is how we all experience our communities, regardless of where we live, the circumstances we were born into, or how we look. This is the vision of health equity." —Introduction to the 2018 County Health Rankings Key Findings Report

This is not only possible, but nonnegotiable. Since 2002, Active Living By Design has helped shift the public health conversation toward one that recognizes how the places where we live affect our health and wellbeing. And those places are all unique, each with its own assets and opportunities. Places also embody histories of significant differences in public investment, practices, and policies that unfairly disadvantage some, especially people of color, from reaching their full health potential.

The recent release of the ninth annual County Health Rankings by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute (UWPHI), which compares county-level data across the nation, shows that where you live influences how well and how long you live. The local-level data make it clear that good health is influenced by many factors beyond medical care including housing, education, and jobs. This year’s Rankings also revealed that meaningful gaps in health persist not only by place, but also by race and ethnicity.

“This year’s Rankings are a call to action to see how these persistent health gaps play out locally, take an honest look at their root causes, and work together to give everyone a fair shot at a healthier life,” said Julie Willems Van Dijk, PhD, RN, director of County Health Rankings & Roadmaps.

The future of communities across the country can look more like the vision described in the County Health Rankings Key Findings Report (where everyone has a fair and just opportunity to lead their healthiest life possible) if we design places to include access to healthy food, opportunities for physical activity, quality education and childcare, multi-modal transportation options, living-wage employment, and safe, affordable, and stable housing—and only if we dismantle the discriminatory policies, practices, and programs within those systems that create continued gaps in health outcomes.

The investments we make in community health today will impact lives for generations to come. And you can be a leader in the effort. Take a look at this year’s Rankings in order to inform your work; there are many strategies that address aspects of place and race to improve health outcomes. And explore our Community Action Model to learn how to translate your vision of healthier communities into effective, sustainable action.

Active Living By Design believes in the power of people like you to reshape communities into healthier places to live. By design, and together with others, we can ensure health and wellbeing for all.

Risa Wilkerson

Executive Director

Action-driven optimist, abundance thinker, and simplicity seeker.