Takeaways from the Arizona Healthy Communities Conference

This article was written by past Local Food Program Director, Steve Russell.

Last month we had the privilege of attending the Arizona Healthy Communities Conference put on by the Arizona Housing Alliance and the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. The event featured nationally renowned speakers and brought together a diverse group of over 200 attendees that represented a variety of industries and sectors. Discussions centered around Transit Oriented Development and Walkability, Public Health, and Food Accessibility.

Man vs Nature

Takeaway #1: Community makes a big difference in public health and attainment outcomes. New science reveals that zip code is a greater predictor of life expectancy than genetics, due to the interactions people hold with their communities. Factors like lack of food access, high crime rates, vehicular traffic congestion, and lack of public community spaces are tied with toxic stress and have inhibitory effects on human development and potential.

Light Rail and Traffic

Takeaway #2: Public policy has the potential enact tangible change when implemented properly The City of Avondale and the City of Phoenix have taken full advantage of the state’s mandate to create a new General Plan every 10 years, by incorporating sustainability and public health initiatives. With the intention and strategy explicitly stated at a policy level, cities have the opportunity to implement projects like public transit and bike lane expansion, responsible waste management, and local food initiatives.

Takeaway #3: Food access initiatives need to take into account cultural relevance and education Just putting vegetables in front of community members is not enough. Culturally-irrelevant food goes to waste, no matter how healthy it is, if people don’t know how to prepare it! Education is an inextricable part of food access and cannot be overlooked!

Parked Bicycles on Route 66 in Flagstaff, Arizona (Fractalius)

Takeaway #4: Walkable and bikeable communities are healthy communities  Safe walkways and bike lanes are crucial to public health. Studies show that the mere existence of safe pathways that are adequately separated from motor vehicle thoroughfares is positively correlated with public health metrics. Safe, well-placed pathways provide opportunities that encourage people to get out and enjoy regular, moderate exercise outdoors!

We’d like to also take this opportunity to give a shout out to one of our amazing members, Alliance Bank of Arizona, who helped to sponsor this conference!