We often hear that public confidence in government is at an all-time low. According to 60 years of public polling, the American people have an increasingly unfavorable view of government. Earlier this year, Pew Research Center revealed that only 20 percent of us trust the federal government to do the right thing. For comparison, the highest rate of trust was 77 percent in 1964, during the Johnson administration.
But there’s good news: people generally feel better about governments that are closer to them. The numbers fluctuate by political affiliation, demographics, and age; in general, though, Americans have much greater trust in state governments, and even more in our local public servants. Pollsters attribute this to voters’ interaction and familiarity with these “lower” levels of government.
Active Living By Design Project Officer Tim Schwantes and I are familiar with the impressive and nearly-completed work of local officials and staff in six Wake County, NC communities as a result of providing technical assistance for their health improvement efforts. In 2014, the John Rex Endowment invested in the idea that municipal governments play an important role in creating healthy and equitable places. While responsibility for community health is often narrowly attributed only to the public health department, this investment recognized that all sectors of government impact our health.
We are happy to share the commitments, strategies, and accomplishments of these Wake County municipalities and the government staff who were key to creating these healthy changes.
Morrisville finds common ground:
Morrisville officials and their partners recently broke ground to create a new “food hub” in the center of town. Elected leaders and town staff collaborated with the Western Wake Farmers Market and Morrisville Community Garden, bridged their organizational differences, and leveraged resources from unusual places to create a permanent location for healthy food sales and an educational garden. Coordinators also secured a local developer’s donation of a mountain of fill dirt to help level the site.
Raleigh plans for equity:
The City of Raleigh’s Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Resources Department developed a method for prioritizing and improving equitable park access by mapping community vulnerability, safety, and connectivity. The new Neighborhood and Community Connections Program is a powerful approach for enhancing healthy neighborhood environments while serving residents with the most needs.
Fuquay-Varina reclaims space:
In Fuquay-Varina, the town renovated an underutilized area in its community center, transforming it into a community kitchen that now offers cooking classes to residents, including low-income children and families. This work opened their thinking to additional programming and partnerships that offer more healthy food access to residents.
Zebulon increases food access:
In the rural Town of Zebulon, the Farm Fresh Market was developed to serve residents and provide a new venue for local farmers to connect with their community by providing fresh, healthy food. In addition to accepting SNAP/EBT, the market helps feed food-insecure residents by making it easy for shoppers to donate cash or produce directly to the local food pantry.
Knightdale practices flexibility:
In addition to creating pedestrian-friendly wayfinding and street improvements, the Town of Knightdale also transformed its inconsistently-attended weekly farmers market into a larger, more popular monthly event, the Market at Knightdale Station. While produce and food vendors still participate, the new approach results in a more festive atmosphere, with people coming together to visit the park and enjoy family activities.
Garner designs for health:
The Town of Garner connected its sidewalk network to a nearby underserved neighborhood, expanding opportunities for safe walking to downtown destinations. One vital new destination will be the 40,000 square foot Garner Recreation Center, slated for completion in 2018. The center will plug in to the town’s sidewalk system and provide healthy vending options for residents where there were none before. The parks staff will also incorporate health into its upcoming master planning process.
John Rex Endowment trusted local governments to promote better health by directly investing in them. In return, these North Carolina municipalities stepped up to embrace community health as their responsibility. Not only did local elected officials make their own new investments for health by creating new positions, redirecting capital funds, and adopting new policies, but municipal staff now do business differently as a result. That’s something we can all have confidence in.