December 4, 2019 | Tiffany Neal | Building Bridges to Better Health
As posted on New Jersey Health Initiatives
The Building Bridges to Better Health leadership team identified the integration of health considerations into local decision-making as a priority in our Blueprint for Action. Focusing on social determinants of health through policy decisions has led to positive outcomes in both Bound Brook and South Bound Brook.
Both towns share great potential for walkability, with each having a small geographic footprint and a downtown Main Street. However, our data shows residents were not taking full advantage of this potential because of concerns about personal safety, traffic, and poor infrastructure. Improving the walkability/bikeability of the towns also helps diversify transportation options, which is another priority from the Blueprint for Action. Many of the towns’ most vulnerable residents, including seniors and Latino families, do not have access to a car, so improving transportation options helps to address equity.
Both municipalities have passed a resolution: Bound Brook in 2015 and South Bound Brook in 2018. Through a partnership with the Rutgers University Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, the towns solicited input from local youth and community leaders, then developed a comprehensive pedestrian/bicycle travel plan. As a result of the plan, Bound Brook has painted street murals in the downtown and added colorful crosswalks at strategic intersections to slow traffic and to beautify the community. The towns have also installed benches and bike racks and have distributed several hundred bike helmets to children. Learn more about this phase of work.
Additionally, elected officials and municipal employees from both towns attended a Health Impact Assessment training this year. The local leaders left the training energized to bring a broader perspective on health back to their councils, and are working to ensure that town master plans reflect health as a community priority.
A side benefit of these discussions has been an improvement in relations between the two towns, which historically operated independently with minimal collaboration. Now, leaders from both towns meet regularly and have explored interest in becoming “sister cities.” This stronger partnership will help both towns to continue improving health for everyone into the future.