Pitting Safety against Community Health?

It is easy to think of healthy communities as active, pleasant, green places where milkmen deliver organic milk in glass bottles and children learn to ride bikes in leafy, computer generated images of parks with engaged community members photo-shopped into the background.  People have to see and want the light at the end of the tunnel, but they might not see the challenges a community might face after the idyllic park is opened to the public.

The sometimes awkward interaction between public safety and community health was brought to my attention by a very insightful Master’s student at a Healthy Communities Seminar.  I wondered:

  •      Can a community succeed in becoming a healthier community before it achieves basic safety standards? 
  •      Is there a point to building more parks if those parks are hubs for violence and crime? 
  •      Can the health of a community actually improve the safety of the community? 

If more people are out in the evenings walking around, food shopping at local stores, and playing sports in parks instead of protecting themselves behind barred windows, maybe gangs and other criminal elements will be driven away.

The solution starts with respecting the individual challenges different communities face and being available to help with those issues.  We can’t just build pretty parks as showpieces and then leave them to disintegrate from lack of attention.  The pretty parks have to come with programming and organized events to keep them populated and utilized by the entire community.  

In other words, the work doesn’t stop at the ribbon cutting.  Community health and public safety have to go hand in hand and be accomplished simultaneously through sustained interest and prolonged focus on long-neglected communities.

Jane Carlson, Associate at RSG