Written by Renee Kuhlman
Have you ever won a prize?
Well, yours truly hadn’t...until last week. That’s when I got the news that my video (see above!) from the Active Living Research Conference was chosen as the winner in a contest among attendees! I’m so excited by the milestone that I want to share it – and the reasons I was in San Diego – with you.
Like me, I’m assuming that you’ve fallen in love with one – or perhaps many – historic neighborhoods, with their lovely tree-lined streets, interconnected blocks, and great architectural details on multi-storied buildings. While we preservationists appreciate this type of environment for its intimacy and beauty, others appreciate how healthy these types of built environments can be – walkable places where you can get your recommended daily dose of exercise while simply going about your everyday business.
Understanding the relationship between the built environment and our health, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation created Active Living Research. This national program helps prevent childhood obesity by supporting research on the policy and environments that contribute to active living for children and their families. So how did I – an admitted policy wonk and preservationist – end up at the group's conference?
The National Trust for Historic Preservation received a grant from Active Living Research to collaborate with Dr. David Salvesen from the University of North Carolina’s Institute for the Environment. Together, we are studying the factors that influence why some states have changed their acreage standards for schools, as well as the impact of those changes on the size of sites. We’re hoping that by combining our strengths of research and dissemination, we'll encourage the preservation and development of walkable schools, which would give more kids the opportunity to be physically active.
In addition to learning about other “active living” research, I made a presentation to my fellow Active Living Research grantees about translating research into state-level policy change. One example I shared was from New Hampshire, where National Trust advisor Senator Martha Fuller-Clark led a campaign to increase the planning coordination around school siting decisions. Under state regulations, school districts only had to give local governments notice about the location of a new school 30 days prior to the start of construction. In 2008, she introduced a bill that would have required a more inclusive planning process. Sadly, it failed to get out of committee.
Meanwhile, the Preservation Alliance of New Hampshire received a $6,000 sub-grant and technical assistance from the National Trust through the Helping Johnny Walk to School Project. Through this project, we have hosted monthly calls with individual researchers (five of whom had received Active Living Research grants) to share findings. Armed with new information, the Preservation Alliance of New Hampshire brought together legislators, officials from the Department of Education, and those interested in public health, transportation, sustainable land use, and education. As a result of this convergence of interests, New Hampshire’s Climate Action Plan – the plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – recommends the renovation of existing schools and better planning coordination.
Additionally, the New Hampshire legislature passed SB 59, which requires school districts to cooperate more closely with municipal officials and to encourage more public participation in the planning process before receiving state dollars. This new law will lead not only to more school renovations, but a more thoughtful and inclusive planning process.
This is just one instance where Active Living Research has helped change policy at the state-level. I’m sure it will not be the last. After all, isn’t that the real “prize” we’re all after – healthy, sustainable communities for everyone?
Renee Kuhlman directs the Helping Johnny Walk to School: Sustaining Communities Project for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
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