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Our History

When we launched in 2002 as Active Living by Design, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, we were at the forefront of the “active living movement,” a new paradigm that contributed to a multi-sector understanding of health. This new approach asked how individuals’ choices were being affected by external forces.

Since then, we have partnered with foundations and communities across the country to help shift the conversation toward one that recognizes how the places where we live affect our health. Together, we have demonstrated that by reshaping policies, systems, and environments, multi-sector community partnerships can help everyone achieve their full health potential.

Our work with local leaders in 35 states has underscored the importance of community context. We recognize that community members’ experiences often reveal which policy, environment, or systems changes will have the most impact and be the most sustainable. We have championed authentic community engagement as an essential practice for lifting up and learning from local realities. And equity has formed the foundation of our approach from the start: we focused on populations at highest risk for obesity and other chronic diseases based on factors such as race, income, and geographic location.

Advancing community-led action is equity in action. Local leaders have shared the need for a more expansive understanding of what makes communities healthy. This mutual learning informed our organization’s initial expansion from an active living focus to one that included healthy eating. We’ve also worked with coalition members who cite violence as the biggest drain on their community’s health. Others mention concentrated poverty and lack of economic opportunity. Still others suffer from isolation and loneliness.

These conversations, on-the-ground experience, and a growing body of research helped us build an understanding that, while active living and healthy eating are key strategies to sustain healthy change, they alone are not enough. As communities’ demand and capacity for change have grown, we’ve evolved alongside them to support coalitions that are addressing housing, community safety, restorative justice, and many other issues.

Community-led and equity-driven, our organization has embraced a new name that reflects this evolution: Healthy Places by Design.

 

Healthy Places

People + Space = Place. Spaces become places when people live, work, learn, and play in them, when they infuse their histories, cultures, stories, and visions of their futures into them.

Our vision is that every person, no matter who they are or where they live, can reach their full potential for health and wellbeing. We know that every place is unique, and that every community has assets and opportunities. We believe in the power of people to harness those assets and reshape their communities into healthier places to live.

 

by Design

Over the last 16 years, we’ve learned that not only does authentic, community-led, and sustainable change take time, but that it also can’t happen without a strategic approach. Everything we do—from facilitating collaborative learning and networking among community coalitions and peer groups of foundations to strategic planning and program development with those investing in community-led change—is by design. We can’t help but be intentional.

During a time of intensifying social and economic inequality, the gap between thriving communities and vulnerable communities widens every day. Right now, decisions are being made that could mend—or worsen—that gap for decades to come. That’s why our work and yours is so urgent. And that’s why we’re committed to partnering with you to ensure that every community is a healthy place by design.