Community Resilience

Health by Design

We were honored to have Marlon Williams, the Director of CROSS AGENCY PARTNERSHIPS, NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, at the Center for Health Equity, as our guest speaker during class. He presented to us different dimensions of Public Health. These included Acute Disorders, Chronic Disorders and Well Being. Acute disorders included problems such as Legionella, Ebola, and traffic crashes. Chronic disorders comprised of diabetes, asthma, and hypertension. Peoples well being consisted of their mental health, safety and stress. He also emphasized that public health influences population health. A map of illnesses and death prone areas were highlighted and showed that health of a community demonstrates health of the overall population and environment.

So what are some of the factors that impact health? I want to explain this by using an example of Detroit, Americas food desert. Food deserts are areas that are devoid of any places that sell fresh fruits and vegetables. Detroit not only has the potential but also the perfect location. Having been a prosperous agrarian city, Detroit still possesses fertile soil, abundance water and land. Space is usually a concern in such situations; however, Detroit has over 40 Sq. miles of free, open space.[1] If this space is put to greater use and efficiency, the problem of unemployment, the threat of becoming a food desert, the reducing population could be wiped out. Yet, the city is on the verge of becoming a food desert, meaning that people have to put in twice the effort to get vegetables than any packaged food. This has led to a drastic decline in the city’s population. Many face severe health conditions such as diabetes, heart failure, hypertension, and obesity. If managed and used productively Detroit could be a completely self-sufficient city, producing enough food and probably even surplus for the city. People can have healthier lives, not only for themselves, but also upcoming generations.

Major grocery stores like Trader Joes have declined offers to open in Detroit. No business is willing to risk the chance of opening a franchise in this food desert. Despite the efforts of the City Hall, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Michigan Food and Beverage Association no whole seller can afford to take the risk.

There have been initiatives to help improve the condition in Detroit. However, these are not large enough to make a big difference. Majority of the people resort to processed and unhealthy food. For example, even though the Market is held every week only those who live in the suburbs actually buy this food. The ones that live in the city still resort to food from local gas stations. This could be due to poverty or even laziness. Various projects have been taken up by civilians to upgrade the state of the city, both for commercial as well as productive reasons. Becoming an urban farming city would enable Detroit with ample food for every citizen. They would have to travel miles to get healthy goods. At the same time it would create employment for many people which would in turn increase the income of households. This would allow them to buy healthy food on a daily basis.

To conclude discrimination, food security, living quality, educational opportunity and neighborhood conditions are some of the factors that impact public and private health. It is our role as future designers to invent design interventions through that make life easier than it already is.

[1] Dowie, Mark. “Food Among the Ruins.” Guernica, August 1, 2009

Image citing: http://green-mom.com/food-deserts-in-america/#.VneIMhorInU


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