Community Health

How Health Can Contribute to Economic Wealth

For many people, a new year means new commitments and resolutions, such as getting in shape and being healthy. While eating better and losing weight may be great for your waistline, having a healthy lifestyle can also benefit your community!

Exercise makes your body release a protein called BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor) that makes you feel at ease and happy. Endorphins, chemicals that fight stress, are released in your brain during exercise, minimizing discomfort, blocking the feeling of pain, and creating a feeling of euphoria.

A focus on individual health also provides benefits for the local community and workforce. Working out clears cortisol, the stress hormone, out of the body. Walking improves both convergent and divergent thinking, enhancing creativity. Exercise can help us to focus more through building stamina and productivity. Workplace health programs that combine individual and organizational strategies can produce benefits for individual employees, their families, and the organization as a whole by reducing sick days and enabling employees to be more productive.

Though not a typical part of economic development strategies, improving individuals’ health can provide local economic benefits. With a strategic approach and comprehensive vision, RSG helps clients develop solutions for their economic and fiscal health.

Written by Evanne Holloway, a Research Assistant at RSG

Living La Vida Localvore

Many cities today are coming out with campaigns to encourage their residents to "buy local" – but what does this really mean?

A "localvore" is a person dedicated to eating food grown and produced locally. There are a lot of good reasons to eat locally grown and produced food: expending less resources packaging and transporting it, supporting the local economy, being healthier without processing and preservatives, being safer and being honest about the food source and the growing/producing process.

Buying local goes well beyond food. Today, more than 150 groups from Austin, Texas, to Portland, Maine promote the idea of "local first" or "buy local" campaigns, encouraging people to buy from independent, locally-owned businesses. Aside from feeling good about supporting local businesses, there are economic benefits too: An economic impact study found that 55.3% of revenue from locally-owned businesses goes back to the local economy versus 13.6% from national chains. Many of these businesses try to set themselves apart by being actively involved in the community.

If your city doesn’t already have a "buy local" campaign, here are six ways to start one in your community:

  1. Talk to groups,
  2. Advertise,
  3. Publicize,
  4. Recognize,
  5. Reward, and
  6. Entertain.

Build awareness, host networking events, reward people for their loyalty, and eventually, people will change their buying habits and be glad they did.

Buying local is a change in attitude, and it can change the community.

Written by Jeff Khau, an Analyst at RSG

Walkable Communities and How to Promote Them

The US Surgeon General recently issued a call to action to promote walking and walkable communities. What can cities do to promote them?

According to the surgeon general, “Individuals have to make the decision to walk. However, the decision can be made easier by improvements to community walkability and by programs and policies that provide opportunities and encouragement for walking. Individuals and partners working together can make walking a national priority and create a national walking movement. A role exists for all sectors of society, including transportation, land use, and community design; parks, recreation, and fitness; education; business and industry; volunteer and nonprofit organizations; health care; media; and public health. Families and individuals also have an important role to play to help make the U.S. a walkable nation.”

When contributing financing to a project, cities can negotiate a public benefits agreement that emphasizes walkable features. RSG has helped clients to prepare for these negotiations.

Public agencies can use tax revenue projections to project what money will be available for future budgets to identify funding for sidewalks, parks, and other elements that encourage walking. RSG prepares these projections for numerous clients.

When supporting public housing, cities can give preference to proposed developments located in walkable neighborhoods and offer amenities that encourage walking. RSG helps clients to do this strategically, promoting walking and assisting in creating walkable neighborhoods for all.

Written by Dima Galkin, an Associate at RSG

Bring on the Brownfields

burke site.jpg

Brownfields—sites previously used for industrial purposes and possibly contaminated by petroleum and other hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants (including hazardous substances co-mingled with petroleum)—present real estate development opportunities that are often ignored because of the complexity and risk involved. These sites can be cleaned up and used for a variety of developments, which protects the environment, reduces blight, and takes development pressures off greenspaces and working lands.

The U.S. EPA Brownfield Program encourages such development by offering financing in the form of grants, as well as technical assistance to communities, states and other stakeholders, giving them the resources they need to fully assess, safely clean up and sustainably reuse America’s estimated 450,000  brownfields. Brownfield grants may be used to address contaminated sites. Opportunities for funding are: Brownfields Assessment Grants, each funded up to $200,000 over three years; Assessment Coalitions, funded up to $600,000 over three years; Brownfield Revolving Loan Fund Grants, funded up to $1,000,000 over five years; and Brownfields Cleanup Grants, funded up to $200,000 over three years. 

RSG is actively involved in brownfields properties that are being developed currently and can help clients navigate through this process. Call us and let us help you to make the most of this interesting type of opportunity.

Written by Jim Simon, a Principal at RSG

Top Priority Issues Identified at the League of California Cities Conference

On Monday, we told you about our attendance at the League of California Cities conference. As we live in a time of emails and social media, RSG truly enjoys face-to-face interaction with our existing clients, as well as staff and Councilmembers from other cities throughout the State.  We had many interesting and productive conversations with attendees about the important issues currently facing cities.

Many of these conversations were sparked by the unique game that we had at our booth. Using poker chips as voting tools, we had six jars representing six priority issues for many cities:
           •    Aging Infrastructure
           •    Affordable/Workforce Housing
           •    Sales Tax Generators
           •    Hotels
           •    Closing Budget Deficit
           •    Job Creation

We received over 100 votes over our two days at the exhibit hall.  And the winner was…….        

!!! Affordable/Workforce Housing !!!

Those who provided a business card at the conference will receive an infographic on Affordable/Workforce Housing that contains valuable data and research on the subject. We’ll delve a bit deeper into affordable/workforce housing solutions without tax increment financing in a post later this week.

At the booth, we also offered an infographic that summarizes the key points of both Senate Bill 107 (Redevelopment Dissolution Trailer Bill) and Assembly Bill 2 (Community Revitalization and Investment Areas that allow for tax increment financing). There was considerable interest from many conference attendees regarding both bills and how the new laws would affect their particular communities.  The infographics are shown here. 

All in all, the conference was a wonderful experience and gave RSG partners and staff the opportunity to connect with clients and others about the challenges and triumphs experienced by communities across the State.

For more information on any of the topics mentioned above, please contact Hitta Mosesman at hmosesman@webrsg.com

Written by Hitta Mosesman, a Principal at RSG.

How is affordable housing good for the economy and the environment?

The election of 2014 is over.  Gone are the incessant phone calls, mailers and signs.  What has been accomplished?  Specifically, will affordable housing be a priority for elected officials?

The recent election leaves the future of funding for housing from the federal government uncertain.  From all indications, there is likely to be less funding for affordable housing, and that is troubling on many levels.

According to Diane Yentel in www.enterprisecommunity.com, The new Congress is likely to continue the housing finance reform debate, but is unlikely to enact legislation.  The next chairman of the Senate Banking Committee will likely be Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), who voted against the bipartisan Johnson-Crapo housing finance reform legislation in May and has been an outspoken critic of the bill’s general approach to reform of the government sponsored entities.  If Senator Shelby becomes chairman, the Senate debate may move considerably to the right, with an emphasis on a much smaller role for the federal government in the mortgage market.”

Real estate and urban planning practitioners and advocates need to illustrate how affordable housing is good for the economy.  Businesses need employees who can afford to live near their workplaces.  People can get jobs and keep them and then put their earnings back into the community.  Children can have a stable environment and focus on learning, rather than having to worry about moving.  Stable neighborhoods promote self-sufficiency and stimulate economic development. 

Another benefit of affordable housing near job centers for lower wage earners, those in the service industries in particular, is that it would reduce vehicle miles traveled.  Many service industry workers can not afford to live in the communities that they work.  Affordable housing in thee areas would help to achieve the goals of AB 32 and SB 375 to reduce green house gas emissions in California.

“Many of our social problems can be traced to housing affordability,” says www.wealthandwant.com.  “If we were able to make housing more affordable, many more of us would have enough money to support our families and save for retirement.  People might choose to marry earlier, have children earlier and live their lives differently.  They would have shorter commutes, use less fuel and less time getting from home to work and back.”

Thus, affordable housing could improve not only the lives of people living in it, but the lives of those around them as well.

Tara Matthews recently attended and RSG sponsored the CAL-ALFHA conference on affordable housing development in California.

A Bold Welcome to Boldo Bol!

 

There are a lot of reasons why RSG is a great place to work. The camaraderie in the office, the stimulating environment in which you always learn something new, the opportunity to help develop our communities into better places. Without a doubt though, one of the highlights of coming to work is…lunchtime!

We are so fortunate to have a variety of incredible restaurants within walking distance of our downtown Santa Ana building. It takes an average of about four phone calls before you can get through to Crave, the unbelievably popular restaurant across the street, to place your pick-up order for their famed kale salad. Around the corner, Izalco Restaurant serves authentic Salvadorian food, including delicious pupusas, in a beautiful space that’s reminiscent of a beautiful Latin American home. This week, I had the best burger I’ve had in a long while at Chapter One, a gastropub about a two-minute walk from us. I could go on and on, but instead, I want to turn your attention to Boldo Bol.

Boldo Bol is a new earth-to-table restaurant that opened this past summer about three blocks down the street from our office, and I couldn’t be more excited about it. The décor is simplistically charming, with photos of fresh produce on the wall in white frames and a wooden swinging café door in the shape of an oversized turnip. Their menu primarily consists of what they call “Bols”, which are combinations of fresh vegetables, meat, rice, and sauce served in an eco-friendly bowl. I’m not one who is ordinarily enthusiastic about a meal so heavily dependent on vegetables, but everything is so fresh that it’s just exceptionally tasty. In my opinion, the wholesomeness of the food is an awesome bonus.

It’s refreshing to see the beginnings of another restaurant with a laser focus on health, flavor, sustainability and community involvement. I wish Boldo Bol the greatest success and hope that more and more restaurants like this continue to pop up throughout the country in a diversity of neighborhoods.

For now, welcome to our neighborhood, Boldo Bol!

Written by Dominique Clark who is an Analyst at RSG

 

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

 

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