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Daily Newscasts

Neighborhood Health makes for Healthier Neighbors

February 4, 2010

PORTLAND, Ore. - Some East Portland residents will soon be asked to help design their perfect neighborhood. It's part of a trend in city planning, as public health researchers make the case that healthier, safer housing and neighborhoods mean healthier residents, especially children.

A Portland group has been awarded a $360,000 grant to improve lower-income neighborhoods over the next four years, and its findings could be useful statewide. Research shows that where a family lives has a major impact on health, from how much time people spend outdoors to their food choices, to concerns like safety, air quality and transportation.

Noelle Dobson, project director for the Community Health Partnership: Oregon's Public Health Institute, says too often, poor families have to trade healthy surroundings for lower rent.

"Our focus in public health is always on the health disparities, where the gap between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots' is the greatest. Our project is looking at what the strategies are that need to happen, so that we're more evenly distributing the benefits and the barriers that come with urban living."

In Portland, the ideal for city living is known as a "20-minute neighborhood," where people can get to basic services - or transportation to access those services - within a 20-minute walk. Julie Massa, Portland policy coordinator for the Oregon Opportunity Network, says it's not impossible to make those neighborhoods affordable, as well.

"Hardworking people should be able to afford housing and still have enough money for groceries and other basic necessities. Where we place the housing is really important, as we're looking at this 20-minute neighborhood concept, and also, how children are thriving in that housing - not just where they're located."

The project is one of 41 around the country that received a "Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities" grant to make the connection between affordable housing and healthy lifestyles, and recommend public policies to encourage that connection. The grant is from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; partners in the effort include the Oregon Opportunity Network, and the ROSE and Hacienda Community Development Corporations.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR