BY: ELIJAH BASSETT
The mainstream discussion surrounding health care tends to centre around the very obvious related issues: emergency room wait times, access to health insurance, wait lists for life-saving procedures, and so on. There’s no doubt that these are vitally important areas of improvement to be discussing, but they don’t make up the whole picture.
In fact, issues of health extend far beyond hospitals, into the physical realities of cities themselves. That’s why a new initiative called the Strong, Prosperous, and Resilient Communities Challenge (or SPARCC for short) has formed in order to bring together community organizers in major American cities. The aim is to more effectively pool their resources and effect change.
The program, which is running in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago, Memphis and Atlanta, started in 2016 and will run for three years, with a budget of $90 million. Although that sounds like a lot, Fast Co.Design points out that it actually isn’t that much in the grand scheme that is urban development. So what exactly do they plan to do with all this money?
Put simply, they want to build connections. The problem is that, before this program started, there were countless organizations around the country, all working to similar ends, but without a level of wide-scale cooperation that could empower them. Although separate organizations working towards their separate goals can and do have an impact as well, the interrelatedness of so many socioeconomic issues makes joining forces a valuable endeavour.
Given that the six cities covered by the initiative all have different problems, the coalitions in these areas will all be working towards locally specific solutions to the issues at hand. For example, many of the regions will be focusing on a combination of transit, economic opportunity, housing and racial justice in order to create cities that really work for their residents.
But how exactly does it all come back to health? In this study, researchers point out that things like building codes and zoning ordinances, far from being the stuff of abstract and meaningless bureaucracy, actually have concrete effects not only on the physical realities of the city but the health of its inhabitants. More clearly related factors like environmental regulations, taxation and spending also play a role. These all come together to shape the economic conditions of communities, as well as people’s proximity to less healthy parts of the city, such as industrial zones or high-traffic areas.
By bringing together activist groups that are experienced in promoting positive change in these areas of governance, SPARCC should be able to have an impact far beyond its official three years as the groups realize the benefits of working together and keep at it in the long term. If that happens, they will be in a much better position to ensure that local governments consider the well-being of all of their residents in the decisions they make. After all, that’s what politics should be about.