I've been thinking about neighborhoods lately. What makes a good one? What makes us feel part of a community? How do they influence our well-being?
Our health can be influenced by the neighborhoods we live in. A brief by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation highlights the importance of neighborhoods and some strategies to create them. I've summarized a few key points here and highlighted some of our approaches.
The physical characteristics of a neighborhood are important - air quality, lead paint and other hazards; but also the proximity to grocery stores. Those who live close to grocery stores, compared to convenience stores, often have better diets due to access to healthy food.
We can't underestimate the importance of social environment. Building social relationships among residents, developing a sense of mutual trust and connectedness results in a greater likelihood of neighbors working together to achieve common goals - safer streets, sharing information about resources, encouraging good behaviors over bad (exercising versus smoking, eg.).
The access to services and opportunities in neighborhoods is another important factor. The quality of schools, availability of public transportation and employment opportunities, and other services greatly enriches our lives.
Particularly, in states like Massachusetts where funding for schools is primarily a municipal responsibility, where you live can have life long impacts.
"Although the links between neighborhoods and health are not simple, the overwhelming weight of evidence indicates that both features of neighborhoods and characteristics of individual residents influence health. Both places and people matter." Source: Where We Live Matters for Our Health: Neighborhoods and Health
In Williamstown, we've been working to provide access to strong, healthy neighborhoods by:
Providing homeownership assistance to families contribute to neighborhood stability and development, as individual assets become investments in neighborhoods, as in our Habitat for Humanity projects.
Supporting community organizing to motivate action, bringing people together to work collectively to improve neighborhoods. Our form of Town government in itself brings people together at committee meetings and the annual Town Meeting, most recently we worked together large project to support new fire station, and smaller working groups ones like Town Meeting/Finance gathering at Wild Soul River and Comprehensive Plan outreach at Sweetwood provide opportunities for deeper interaction.
Encouraging Smart Growth development by concentrating homes near shops, public transportation and employment possibilities. Our proposed zoning changes support this type of development through shrinking lot frontages and allowing small multi-unit apartment style buildings by right.
Developing affordable housing in neighborhoods that offer opportunities for employment and quality schools.
There are many more initiatives we can implement to make our community more accessible to those with lesser means. Reach out if you'd like to get involved.