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First aid for ailing communities

First aid for ailing communities

Picture of Tammie Smith

Richmond,Va., is an urban city of approximately 205,000 residents, of which about one in four live in poverty. The city is surrounded by suburban counties--Chesterfield and Henrico--that are much larger in terms of geography and population and where poverty levels range from 5 percent to 10 percent.

The city has a poor showing on many health status indicators and outcomes. Within the city, however, there are neighborhoods of $1 million homes and moderate income neighborhoods. At the same time, practically all the region’s large public housing complexes are in Richmond.

It’s been established that “place matters” to healthWhat, I wonder, are the mental and physical effects of living in cramped quarters with worries about crime. There are also low-income neighborhoods with so many so many boarded-up buildings that they make public housing developments look good.

These inadequacies are not lost on the residents. Students in a Photo Voice project assigned to take pictures of things in their neighborhoods they’d like to change showed images of a corner market’s fast food counter (too much fried food) and a run-down house. One student wished for a community garden like one in a nearby neighborhood.

My project will take a look at health status by ZIP code, census tract or neighborhood. How much different is morbidity and mortality in Gilpin Court, a large housing development, compared to Midlothian in suburban Chesterfield, for example? The challenge will be to get adequate data down to a meaningful level.

Richmond leaders have launched an initiative to get residents more active and improve health. But can anything short of demolishing the swaths of blight even start to make a difference? Others argue that the city (and its poorest residents) will forever be at a disadvantage because the city simply doesn’t have the tax base of the suburban counties. There is also an “us” versus “them” mentality that makes meaningful regional cooperation unlikely.


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