Beyond Access to Care to a Healthy Environment
“Improving the health of the community is not just about access to care, it’s about having a healthy environment,” said Harris.
The Durham Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission plays a critical role in the county’s Comprehensive Bike Transportation and Pedestrian Plans and participates in the review of site plans to ensure that pedestrian and bicycle amenities are included in new developments. Their efforts have helped to create 32 miles of dedicated bike lanes in Durham County. Based on community health assessment results demonstrating that many residents prefer to exercise within their neighborhood, two marked “Healthy Mile Trails” have been created to provide exercise opportunities to underserved communities and more are in progress.
Providing these opportunities for exercise also helps create strong social bonds across the community. Again, focused in the county’s most historically under-served neighborhoods, Bull City Play Streets events are literally opening the streets to increase physical activity and social connectedness. The project was born through many community partners including the Partnership for a Healthy Durham, Clean Energy Durham, Triangle Transit and Durham CAN. The Partnership for a Healthy Durham later wrote a grant to support the City in managing the events along with support from County staff. Play Streets use community volunteers to provide activities and healthy food during weekend festivals, linking residents to running, biking, badminton, Zumba and other new forms of healthy activity.
Community leaders are also focusing on expanding access to healthy foods. The community’s two farmers’ markets accept EBT cards from the SNAP program, and Durham Public Schools converted an empty plot of more than 30 acres of land into the Farm Hub — a hands-on learning environment where students can grow and harvest healthy food, hike, bike and explore nature in a directed educational environment. A “Veggie Van” works with churches, childcare centers, community organizations and other nonprofits to deliver boxes of fresh, locally-grown fruits and vegetables to people who have limited access to these products.
“These programs are an opportunity to give people more choice, more access and in turn create healthier options,” said Harris.
Durham County’s most ambitious achievement in recent years has been the passage of a Board of Health Smoking Rule that limits smoking in many outdoor areas. In a region where tobacco sales were once the engine of the local economy, the new rule prohibits outdoor smoking on city and county property and abutting sidewalks and bus stops. It has been called one of the most progressive rules in the Southeast United States.