Community Development: Focus on Emerging Collaborations

Nov 8, 2011, 7:21 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

Collaboration between the community development and health sectors is critical and beginning to gain greater traction to improve lives—particularly in low-income neighborhoods—according to Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and Sandra Braunstein, director of the Federal Reserve Board’s Division of Consumer and Community Affairs, writing in the November issue of Health Affairs. The journal issue, produced with support from RWJF, features several articles on emerging collaboration between these sectors to improve health. Access the articles here.

>>Recommended Reading: For an overview of the articles included in the Health Affairs issue, check out this post from the County Health Rankings blog.

Also this week, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, the Pew Charitable Trusts and RWJF hosted a day-long conference, “Building Healthy Communities,” to discuss next steps for these shared new efforts.

The conference builds on a series of regional meetings held in the last year and attended by experts in community development, finance, urban planning, housing, government, business, academic, philanthropy and health sectors to help lay the groundwork for innovative new ideas and public and private partnerships with shared goals—such as creating safe and accessible places to exercise, preventing chronic diseases, and building safe, affordable housing. View the webcast or participate in the discussion on Twitter at #FedHealth.

“Greater opportunities lie ahead,” writes David Erickson, PhD, Manager of the Center for Community Development Investments at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, who is both a co-author in the current Health Affairs issue and a coordinator of this week’s conference. “Many of those opportunities involve better coordination. Moving beyond coordination to integration will require the health sector to see community development as its partner in addressing the 'upstream' factors that influence health.”

NewPublicHealth spoke with David Erickson about the developments this week and next steps in the intersection between community development and health.

NewPublicHealth: How did this week’s conference build on past regional conferences?

David Erickson: Previous Healthy Communities conferences have focused on "consciousness raising”—making the case that health care and community development are both necessary prescriptions for better health. This conference attempted to not only surface new ideas and partnerships, but also to drill in on three specific areas of systems change—finance, data, and policy—necessary to fully integrate population health work and community development. As the day unfolded, a consensus emerged that a new business model is needed to incentivize collaboration and capture downstream health care cost savings resulting from strategic community investments.

NPH: Can you give us a strong example of a recent community-building collaboration?

David Erickson: The Sunnydale neighborhood in San Francisco is arguably among the most disadvantaged in the country. Centered on a largely boarded-up 750 unit public housing project, Sunnydale residents lack even basic services. As Mercy Housing CEO, Sister Lillian Murphy, remarked at this week’s conference: "People talk about food deserts; Sunnydale is an everything desert." Funded by a HOPE SF grant, Mercy Housing California has taken the lead in redeveloping Sunnydale into 700 mixed-income housing units, surrounded by pocket parks, a new community center, and a grocery store. What sets Sunnydale apart as a particular example of collaboration, however, is the coalition of partners Mercy has organized to study the health effects of the redevelopment on its residents. Taking a novel approach, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and the University of California, Berkeley will compile longitudinal data on residents to capture and explain the effects neighborhood redevelopment has on residents that remain on site during the redevelopment process. These data will help inform future Mercy Housing developments by lifting up what works and flagging what doesn't.

NPH: What’s next for Federal Reserve in community development?

David Erickson: The Federal Reserve will continue its Healthy Communities Initiative through 2012 and beyond. The next regional conference will take place in Las Vegas on January 19, followed by conferences in San Francisco, Cleveland and Seattle. To learn more about upcoming conferences, or if you would like to bring a Healthy Communities conference to your city, email Ian Galloway at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco (

>>Read more on community development and health.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.