Recently, Michael Rubinger, the head of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), one of the country’s largest investors in low-income neighborhoods, wrote that “poverty is a massive public health problem.” This is profound.
Why? It implies that two critical sectors working in low-income communities — public health and community development — in fact have common aims.
The idea that health and well-being are linked is not new. How well we know that neighborhoods with high poverty and poor health overlap. And increasingly we are seeing how economic and health factors are connected. When communities lack stable housing, good schools, jobs, high-quality food and more, their residents’ health suffers. Ever more examples of comprehensive projects addressing communities’ health and well-being are showing impressive result. Cases in point: the Villages of East Lake in Atlanta and Baker-Ripley in Houston. And more still are in the works, for example the Conway Center broke ground last month in Washington, DC.
My takeaway is this: the common ends are there—let’s collaborate on the means.
But I believe that Rubinger is doing something even more here. As a community development leader, he’s sending out a call for cross-sector collaboration. And specifically, collaboration between the community development and health sectors at the system (not just project) level.
After all, community developers know how and where inequities in both opportunity and health persist, and how to bring resources to bear to address them. The public health sector knows how to collect, track, and apply impact data to prevent disease and promote health. Imagine the power of their joined forces! Leaders, practitioners, policymakers, and investors alike would be better informed on what interventions make the biggest difference in health and well-being at the neighborhood level…and dare I say, we’d be making huge progress toward truly understanding the added value of collaboration.
The leader of a leading organization in community development thinks it’s time to shift the paradigm. This reframing sets up some important questions for the sectors’ working together. In the meantime my takeaway is this: the common ends are there—let’s collaborate on the means.
Colby Dailey is the managing director of the Build Healthy Places Network.
Homepage photo/Bruce Monroe