Updated Friday, Sept. 9, 2011, 10:16 p.m.
By DAVID BORAKS
The Town of Davidson has received a three-year, $350,000 grant from the federal Centers for Disease Control to begin regular studies of how planning and policies affect public health, and to develop what town officials are calling “healthy community” initiatives.”
The town is one of a half-dozen places across the country – and by far the smallest community – to share a total of $8.4 million, or $2.8 million a year for three years, in the Health Impact Assessment to Foster Community Design grant program. Other grants went to the San Francisco Department of Public Health; the Massachusetts Department of Public Health; the Oregon Department of Human Services; the Douglas County Health Department in Omaha, Neb.; and the Baltimore City Health Department.
Town officials, including commissioners and representatives of the Davidson planning and parks and recreation departments, made the announcement at a press conference Friday afternoon at Roosevelt Wilson Park.
During Friday’s event, attended several dozen town employees and citizens, Mayor John Woods also announced that the town had been named a “Fit Community” for 2011-14 by the N.C. Health and Wellness Trust Fund. He also noted that the town recently won three statewide planning awards from the North Carolina of the American Planning Association. (The statewide group recognized the town for planning in the Exit 30 area; for the 2010 Comprehensive Plan; and for its ongoing commitment to the 2001 affordable housing ordinance.
“These really are external acknowledgements that things that we’ve been doing here for years, the policies that we’ve established, the values that we’ve established, and the principles under which we live and operate are actually part and parcel to a healthy community,” Mayor Woods told DavidsonNews.net after the announcement.
The project calls for conducting regular and formal health impact assessments in town – three per year over the next three years. Town officials compare these HIAs to the environmental impact statements required in planning new developments. The studies will help town officials gauge the potential health effects of both development projects and new town polices, to better understand how they’ll affect public health, officials said.
Town officials say the project will not cost Davidson anything out of pocket – at least not for the assessments. Any new programs that grow out of the effort would have to be funded through the town budget.
The $350,000 will pay to hire a new full-time coordinator to run the project. Since one of the project’s goals is to incorporate public health into planning and policy decisions, it also will pay for 25 percent of the salary of Davidson Planning Manager Lauren Blackburn.
Town spokeswoman Megan Davis said Friday night that the grant includes $56,790 for “salaries and wages” for both Ms. Blackburn and the new coordinator. The grant would pay 25 percent ($13,250) of Ms. Blackburn’s $53,000 annual salary at the time the grant application was written. The remaining $43,540 would be available for the new full-time position.
Ms. Blackburn will oversee a new town staff committee called Davidson: Design for Life (DD4L) to be formed.
The assessments also will help officials develop new procedures and programs to foster public health, Town Commissioner Margo Williams said after Friday’s announcement. She said the health studies would help the town “discover the barriers” that get in the way of participating in existing health and fitness programs, or using existing infrastructure such as sidewalks or greenways.
“Once we discover how to overcome barriers
CDC officials said the grant recognizes Davidson’s previous efforts. The town “is a recognized leader in smart growth and affordable housing,” and has made a commitment to “health and the built environment,” as well as sustainability, the CDC said.
Ms. Blackburn said Friday the project will touch town residents in several ways, from participation the health assessments to joining new commmittees.
“There will be community involvement as part of each of those HIA projects, so we’ll have committees and so forth established. And there will be an ongoing conversation about each of the topics covered in the HIAs,” she said. “And ultimately, HIAs are designed so that our elected officials have a choice to make, based on the impacts to health for a particular policy decision.”
Centers for Disease Control Health Impact Assessment information page.
Aug. 15, 2011, DavidsonNews.net, “Davidson wins 3 awards from state planning association.”
Town of Davidson web page for the new “Davidson: Design for Life” project.