In 2016, I hope the news is filled with stories about connectivity. I don’t just mean more networks of sidewalks, bike lanes, trails and parks, or school gardens and local farms connected to community kitchens and small groceries. While that type of connectivity is important for healthy communities, I’d like for something more to prevail in this year’s media. Above all, I want to be inundated with stories of daring social connectivity.
Media narratives in 2015 centered on loss, terrorism and a general sense of fear. Debates ensued about which types of policies best protect us, who has the right to own weapons, who to keep out of our country and who should have what type of power.
Meanwhile, people also faced daily battles with the rising costs of healthcare, childcare, education and healthy food, making them harder to access. Besides the obvious challenges that causes, scarcity also impedes our mental bandwidth [i]—our ability to think with clarity, to weigh options with patience and logic. In other words, when we are fighting to make ends meet, are worried about our children’s well-being or how to put a healthy meal on the table, we are unable to be our best selves or make the best decisions. We are unable to reach our full potential personally and as a family and community member. Something needs to change.
If we are ever to achieve the full embodiment of healthy communities, our strategies must be developed with recognition of—not in isolation from—these looming issues. For example, we’ve learned that sometimes, a focus on healthy eating and active living misses the root of a community’s barriers to wellbeing; people will still avoid even the nicest sidewalk if they’re worried about being shot. Our field must help drive a deeper commitment to addressing violence, structural racism, poverty, healthcare and other social determinants of health.
And we must work together, with deeper connectivity. This will require building strong and trusting relationships across boundaries of race, income levels, disciplines, research areas, neighborhoods, cities and political parties. Funders will need to invest in more than programs and policies by also supporting the long-term efforts of collaborative learning, community engagement and partnership building. Collectively, we need to consider the whole context of supporting healthy families, including increasing connectivity to our neighbors next door, across town and around the world.
Active Living By Design is working to improve health for everyone at every stage of life, and we know that collaborative learning and deepened networks are vital to making that happen. If we all strengthen our contributions toward a more connected society, we could change the stories playing out across our nation.
[i] Mullainathan, S. and Shafir, E. (2013). Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much. New York, NY: Times Books