2014 All-America Cities Summaries
River Region Obesity Task Force
Dissatisfied with a 2010 ranking that designated the Montgomery metropolitan area as having the highest obesity rate in the nation (tied with Stockton, California), Mayor Todd Strange took action. He appointed a health and fitness “czar” to address the issue, which led to the formation of the River Region Obesity Task Force. Working with the Central Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission (CARPDC), the task force implemented Safe Routes to School programs across the metro area; heightened awareness of fitness and nutrition issues through “Fitness First Fridays” segments on a local newscast; and developed public fitness events such as the Montgomery Half-Marathon and Dragonboat Races on the Alabama River. Additionally, the task force completed the Community Health Assessment and Group Evaluation, which helped members understand perceptions in each of the region’s counties and develop a community action plan to promote strategies to reduce obesity. The area’s obesity rate has declined each year since 2009, from 34.6 percent that year to 27.1 percent in 2012, which translates to 30,000 fewer obese residents. Further, the percentage of people who exercise frequently has increased by more than 8 percent, and the percentage of those who eat produce regularly has increased from 52.7 percent to 58.6 percent.
Health Services, Inc.
In 2007, Montgomery faced a health care crisis as its two hospital systems were suffering huge financial losses. Also, Health Services, Inc., a not-for-profit community health center and one of the older health centers in the nation, was in need of replacement. The need for a new health center was evident, but the task was daunting as the projected construction cost was $15 million. Envision 2020, a community-driven strategic planning group that includes citizens, elected leaders and businesspeople, helped to coordinate local support and pursue grant funding through the Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). The strategic approach included contributions of $2.5 million from the city and $1 million from the County Commission, along with a donation of property valued at more than $1 million from Jackson Hospital, whose campus would be adjacent to the designated location of the new facility. In 2010, Montgomery learned that HRSA would provide $11 million in grant funding, making their dream a reality. Construction of the River Regional Health Center was completed in 2012, adding 28,000 square feet to facility capacity, including six additional waiting areas and 32 patient exam rooms. Additionally, two new wellness centers were opened in early 2014, providing exercise equipment and classes, along with wellness and health education services.
EAT South (Educate, Act and Transform) was initially developed as a full-scale urban farm to address the area’s high obesity rate and urban food deserts. Its programs now ensure thousands of Montgomery residents are introduced to fresh produce. The “education” component includes Good Food Day, a hands-on field trip designed for children to experience the seed-to-plate process, and a program that offers a grant to elementary schools to have a garden built on their grounds. The “act” component features the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, as well as a summer youth employment/intern program that teaches youth between the ages of 15 and 19 about sustainable agriculture, health and nutrition, and how to prepare and cook healthy, local food. EAT South’s “transformational” activities include the formation of Food Policy Councils to address the underlying challenges of creating a healthy food system, and Veg Out Montgomery, a monthly gathering where community members each contribute a dish and share a plant-based meal at the farm. In 2013, $50,000 of sustainably produced food was sold to the local community, 50 families participated in the CSA program, and 30 schools participated in the Good Food Day educational program, impacting 2,500 students. With the area’s obesity rate decreasing and the percentage of residents who eat produce regularly increasing, EAT South is on track to make a sustainable difference in the community.
San Pablo, California
Faced with a childhood obesity crisis and the highest cancer rate in Contra Costa County, San Pablo embraced a collective vision to address health disparities, becoming the first city in California to add an optional health-conscious planning element—Health Element—to its General Plan. Representatives from all sectors of the community participated in the development of the Health Element, which was adopted in 2011 and focuses on a variety of factors affecting health, including access to health services, nutrition and the quality of physical environments. Residents, nonprofit organizations and government entities formed the Childhood Obesity Prevention Task Force, which collaborates with stakeholders to develop strategies that encourage the community to “Eat Smart, Get Moving.” To increase access to healthier foods and provide a safe gathering place on the weekends, the city established the San Pablo Farmer’s Market. In recognition of the need for healthy activity and mobility for residents of all ages, the city conducted the San Pablo Avenue Complete Streets Study, funded by a Caltrans Environmental Justice Transportation Planning Grant for $6.2 million, which seeks to improve multimodal access and safety along a busy regional corridor. Additional outcomes of the Health Element include the construction of the West County Health Clinic, which led to increased access to health care services and the creation of about 200 new jobs, and the development of recreational spaces to reduce crime and provide opportunities for physical activity.
San Pablo Economic Development Corporation
In response to challenging economic circumstances, the city established and funded the San Pablo Economic Development Corporation (SPEDC) to create jobs while shifting the needle toward workforce and business development. Their efforts have contributed to a significant decrease in unemployment—from 22 percent in 2009 to 13.1 percent in 2013—and helped people move away from underemployment through skills-building certification programs. The SPEDC manages partner job training programs with Contra Costa Community College, RichmondBUILD, the Stride Center and Moler Barber College, focusing on areas of the economy that are either stable or growing and pay a living wage or provide a pathway to better earnings. Training includes both hard and soft skills. In 2013, the SPEDC partnered with the city and New Skin Adult Tattoo Removal to launch an innovative program, Removing Barriers, a multi-purpose job readiness and adult tattoo removal program that removes visible and skills-related barriers to employment. On the business development front, the SPEDC works to stabilize, diversify and develop the local economy through the education and training of its business and workforce, with partners offering a broad range of services to help businesses achieve revenue targets and increase in size, adding local jobs as a result.
San Pablo Police Department Community Partnership Programs
The San Pablo Police Department engages in a variety of community partnership programs to reduce crime and strengthen the community’s perception of safety, with a majority of the programs focused on youth, many of whom otherwise would fall victim to gang violence. The Youth and Education Services Unit provides classes to elementary school students to create positive experiences with police and teach ways of avoiding drugs and gangs. The unit also includes the Gang Resistance Education and Training Program for sixth-grade students, with top graduates being recognized at the police department’s annual community awards dinner. In addition to youth outreach programs, the police department strives to engage the public through other programs—many offered in English and Spanish to better serve the community—that focus on emergency and disaster response skills, among other areas. To further strengthen the bonds between the community and the San Pablo Police Department while also reducing crime, bike and foot patrols have been implemented. The success of these public partnership programs is reflected by the city’s 2013 crime statistics, which reveal that, for the first time since 1986, the city had zero homicides, and experienced significant crime reduction in every category of reportable crime compared to 2012.
When Colorado Mission of Mercy approached Brush! to be a site for a two-day free dental clinic, this thriving rural community quickly rose to the occasion. Brush! was the smallest town ever considered for this type of event, and there were no venues large enough to host the clinic. Led by the mayor of Brush!, who has a local dental practice, and his wife, a dental hygienist, the community’s enthusiasm was demonstrated during the planning and execution of the event, with the Brush School District lending support by rescheduling activities to accommodate the dental clinic and volunteer appreciation dinner. Donors and volunteers, including several hundred dental professionals throughout the state who were joined by local retired dentists, converged in October 2011 to provide much-needed dental services to 1,375 patients (548 from Brush!). The patients who were treated expressed satisfaction, with 98 percent indicating they were happy with their clinic experience. Area businesses and organizations provided funding for supplies, food and services, and the event increased awareness of the need for accessible dental care.
Improve the Downtown Core
To revitalize downtown Brush!, city officials joined forces with residents and Brush Area Chamber of Commerce members to plan and execute a four-year, $4.35 million project, which was funded through $1.85 million in grants combined with $2.5 million from the city. Brush! created an improvement district wherein 70 percent of local businesses agreed to pay a one-time fee to implement upgrades and a small monthly fee for ongoing sidewalk maintenance. Improve the Downtown Core features strategies for a healthier community, not just for safer streets, but for a walkable, attractive area. The addition of easy-to-use ramps, large stone planter boxes, benches, bike racks and new lighting has increased the safety and attractiveness of downtown Brush!, and six new businesses have opened in the area. Sales tax figures have increased 20 percent from 2009 to 2013, and businesses demonstrate their community pride by maintaining their planters and decorating for the holidays. As a result of effective collaboration among a variety of stakeholders, the challenges of achieving consensus and identifying funding were overcome, and local shoppers and tourists alike will be welcomed to this vibrant downtown area.
Brush! is working hard to ensure residents have access to a healthy environment and exceptional health care. A $20 million expansion of the local hospital is slated for completion in late 2014, and the project includes a new labor and delivery suite, enhanced technology, new medical equipment, updated patient care areas, outreach programs and classes on diabetes, healthy cooking and infection prevention, among other topics. In April 2013, the city adopted the HEAL (Health, Environment, Agriculture, Learning) Project, which provides training and support for local officials, and the city council then recommends policies that will inspire community members to increase their physical activity and learn about healthy eating. Most recently, in January 2014, Brush! became the first town in northeastern Colorado with a Weigh and Win kiosk installed, and more than 300 residents have enrolled in the program, which provides weight-loss and motivational tools, along with monetary incentives to meet quarterly weight-loss goals. Strong partnerships among city officials, the local hospital, other local health professionals and residents have contributed to meeting the demand for a health-oriented environment, with affordable and accessible health services and education.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Dillard Innovation Zone
The Dillard Innovation Zone Promise Neighborhood was created to cultivate community collaborations, support school improvement efforts, health service interventions and business opportunities in one of the city’s most distressed communities. Dillard Elementary has a long history dating back to the early development of the city. About 80 percent of the school’s students are African-American. A partnership with Paradise Bank and Ranger Technological Resources led to the development of an on-line portal for fundraising, recruiting mentors, marketing and promoting investment in the school and its students. Another project sought to improve student literacy by focusing on parental reading and language skills. Major accomplishments of the school and partnerships range from increased parental involvement, afterschool and in school mentoring programs, as well as strengthened community and business involvement. One outcome of the partnership is that Dillard Elementary has been removed from the list of 100 lowest performing schools in the State of Florida.
The story of Flagler Arts and Technology (FAT) Village is about the reinvention of a desolate, crime-ridden area into a four block-long arts community in downtown Fort Lauderdale. The vision began with Dan McGraw who saw the potential for transforming a rundown warehouse area and began purchasing property. He recruited a master puppeteer, a local photography and media company, an event planning and marketing business, an advertising agency, a local theater company and an architecture firm. A grassroots group of artists and merchants worked to clean up the area, which had been a haven for drug dealers. The area has been reinvented through events such as the monthly Art Walk, which provided the opportunity for visitors to stroll through art galleries, artist studios, and a prop warehouse and see theater performances and puppet shows. The art district has helped make Fort Lauderdale a magnet for members of what author Richard Florida calls “the creative class” by providing an attractive, livable urban environment.
Northwest Gardens Healthy Places
Like many other communities, Fort Lauderdale’s streets were designed for automobiles with vehicles traveling at high speeds along multi-lane roadways, limited numbers of crosswalks and no bicycle lanes. This development pattern created an environment unsafe for pedestrians and cyclists. In 2012, the city completed a community-wide visioning process. One challenge identified in the process was the need to make Fort Lauderdale more walkable. Broward County and the Broward County Metropolitan Organization worked with the city to transform roadways into “complete streets” and to foster a more connected community. This new policy recently earned Fort Lauderdale recognition from the nonprofit Smart Growth America. Another initiative, the Northwest Gardens Development is turning a once distressed neighborhood into a showcase for sustainable development with spaces for walking, biking, community gardens, fruit trees, energy efficient housing, solar streetlights, job training and cultural activities. Neighborhood residents participated in the design of interactive walking paths, garden areas and other amenities. The project incorporated the “Safe Paths to Safe Places” concept, providing desirable walkways to schools, commercial services, transit stops, health services and jobs. Three community gardens provide access to nutritious food in a part of the city that was once considered a “food desert.”
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Cedar Rapids experienced a devastating flood in 2008 that affected 5,390 homes and 943 commercial properties. Housing became the city’s top priority. A partnership with the Affordable Housing Network provided $31 million to 1,203 flood-affected homeowners. Rebuilding Ownership Opportunities Together was created with the Iowa Economic Development Authority which has developed 524 new units since the flood. To address the large population of renters the Multi-Family New Construction program developed 145 units of rental housing. Another program, Block by Block, required 60 percent of residents on a block to participate in the reinvestment effort, resulting in 214 rehabilitations. Reviving commerce was the second step in flood recovery. A week after the flood a collaborative was formed known as the Small Business Recovery Group. This collaboration implemented various programs that focused on disaster and long-term recovery and successfully saved over 5,000 jobs. The third step was to revive the community. This was accomplished through TotalChild, which works to improve long-term opportunities for children in the community. Food production issues were addressed by the Ellis Urban Village project to ensure sustainability. The New Bo City Market was created to provide a hub for resident activity and includes a business incubator space and performance areas; culinary teaching facility; seasonal outdoor market yard and play areas for children.
Commitment to our Arts and Culture Community
Building on the strong collaborative foundation the arts community had established in Cedar Rapids before the flood, six arts organizations came together to present “Moving Home,” which commemorated the flood experience and raised $18,000 for flood recovery. Theatre Cedar Rapids was the first major arts and cultural facility to reopen post flood and was able to complete pre-flood building improvements with state and FEMA funding, which resulted in a 40,000 increase in attendance. The theater’s success helped inspire other groups to do the same including the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library which increased membership by 2,000 through completed renovations and additions. With extensive community input, the Paramount Theatre was re-envisioned and reopened in 2012. Orchestra Iowa also experienced tremendous growth after the flood with increased outreach programming to local students and a growing audience. Following the flood, the community reimagined the library and what it could offer though focus groups and other means of public input. The new library opened in 2013 with more than 300,000 visitors taking advantage of the new collection and the new meeting and special event spaces.
Creating a Culture of Health and Well-being
Along with its flood recovery efforts, Cedar Rapids has worked to make healthy choices easier through permanent changes to environment, policy and social networks. As part of a statewide “Blue Zone Project,” Cedar Rapids focuses on moving naturally, eating wisely, “right outlook” and belonging as the foundations of a healthy community. In the past five years 20.4 miles of bike trail have been added, including a regional bike trial that connects to the neighboring community. A local nonprofit, Matthew 25, developed an urban farm education center with two acres of blighted property after the flood. In 2007, the Vision Cedar Rapids Downtown Framework Plan identified the need for a Medical District, MedQuarter. It has become a nationally recognized medical destination and a hub for well-being with a holistic approach. The Creative Corridor connects, celebrates and supports all those who dream big, push boundaries, and create. The Linn Area Long Term Recovery Coalition also contributes to the community’s sense of belonging. About 70 organizations have come together to coordinate more than 664,756 hours of volunteer service and bring more than $20.5 million dollars in resources and services.
Healthy Chelsea Coalition
The Healthy Chelsea Coalition is a citywide, inclusive effort that grew out of Chelsea’s long-term collaboration with Massachusetts General Hospital and its local community health center, which has been in Chelsea since 1969. A bottom-up approach became the strategy with 60 people and 30 organizations/groups participating regularly. The goal is to shape the external environment of Chelsea so that healthy eating and active living become a part of everyday life. In the schools the superintendent has supported initiatives creating healthy choices for lunch and incorporating more physical activity. In the community a walking map is available for all residents; Healthy Chelsea Corner Store Connection was created to motivate and educate small, neighborhood store owners to sell a wider variety of affordably priced fruits and vegetables and a fitness station was installed in the city’s busiest playgrounds. Policy advocacy is an important activity of the Healthy Chelsea Coalition which worked to reduce the use of artificial trans-fats in Chelsea’s food establishments and to lessen the burden on restaurants Healthy Chelsea worked with a local wholesaler and a national purveyor to make trans-fat free alternatives easily available.
North Bellingham Hill Action Plan
The Neighborhood Developers, a community development organization overseen by local residents, partnered with the city to initiate the North Bellingham Hill Action Plan in 2009 to rebuild the entire Shurtleff-Bellingham neighborhood and create social and financial capital for its residents. Ideas and initiatives were generated by residents and community leaders at a series of four participatory “charrettes,” conducted in multiple languages, which provided an engaging process for residents to share their opinions and to hear the concerns of others. The North Bellingham Hill Action Plan secured resources which led to improvements of the streets, sewer and water, lighting and trees, a neighborhood park, traffic calming, cleaner streets, recycling, housing quality and civic engagement in North Bellingham Hill. It also had a spill-over impact in the adjacent sub-neighborhood, fostered two programs (CET & CONNECT) for expansion and secured a competitive grant to extend the work. CET has organized and implemented the community cleanliness campaign which included community organizing, community education and outreach, and local advocacy to change trash and recycling procedures and outcomes in Chelsea. Six community organizations co-located to form CONNECT, a financial opportunity center to provide services for neighborhood residents to increase their financial stability and economic security. Results are high for participants when financial coaching plus two other services is accessed, 76 percent see increases in at least one key financial milestone.
Roca’s Intervention Model
The nonprofit organization Roca has received international acclaim for its success in achieving behavioral change in very high-risk young men. Its model combines intensive street outreach, case management and stage-based programming in education and employment while working with the criminal justice system and a myriad of public institutions engaged in the lives of those young men. In FY13, of the young men in the final phase of Roca’s model, 89 percent had no new arrests, 95 percent had no new technical violations of probation or parole and 69 percent retained unsubsidized employment. In a Harvard study, Roca was shown to reduce recidivism by 65 percent and increase employment by 100 percent among the targeted population versus their peers not receiving Roca services. The model’s success has led to statewide initiatives and Roca became the sole service provider for the world’s largest Social Impact Bond project, the MA Juvenile Justice Pay-for-Success pilot. Vital to Roca’s success is its partnership with the police department which took time to build, but has allowed both groups to maximize resources for results and has led to systematic changes leading to a strong Chelsea.
Willamette River Greenway Development
Back in the late 1990s, the city’s Parks and Open Space Master Plan laid out a plan for a mile’s worth of greenway development running north from the city’s Riverview Park near the downtown area. One “dream” project was construction of an amphitheater in Riverview Park. This 20-acre park had a natural bowl shape and included a block of frontage onto Main Street. When the city was working to begin construction, a significant amount of earth moving was required. Rather than pay for a contractor, the city called in the National Guard. Oregon’s engineering battalions regularly do service projects in order to better train their forces. Over the years, new projects have been added to the open space development—ballparks, a soft jogging trail and a dog park. The payoff for this greenway development can be seen downtown with the large numbers of people out and about. Parking is scarce downtown after 5 pm, and one can usually find a dozen or more people at the dog park on any given day. Even in poor weather, residents are walking or jogging on the Willamette River Trail, getting their exercise and enjoying what feels like a wilderness experience only a few blocks from their homes.
Central School District Healthy Meals
In 2007, the school free lunch program in Independence, Oregon, was a money loser that provided only the most basic foods in the most affordable fashion possible. Food director Mike Vetter was hired by the local school district to turn around the program. By adopting group purchasing agreements with other schools, planning meals around the amount that could be reimbursed by the federal government and pinching pennies, Vetter took a program that was losing $75,000 per year to a $200,000 surplus. And this he did at a time when the economy was in a deep recession and government cutbacks and teacher layoffs were the norm. But the turnaround did not come at the expense of nutrition. After seeing how much ranch dressing kids were using, Vetter pulled it from the menu and replaced it with low calorie alternatives. He began to work with farmers to get fruits and vegetables locally. His pizza is made up the road in Gladstone and veggies come from a variety of farmers in the area. During the fall kids can now get apples and pears from an orchard that they can practically see from the windows of the school.
In 2006, an Independence resident approached the city about purchasing a playground for a local park. The man had been a friend of the park’s namesake and said he would raise $10,000 for the playground if the city would match it. Not wanting to pass up an opportunity to get the community involved in a project the city agreed. The money was raised, but the most interesting thing the resident contributed was a new idea known as “community build.” Certain playground manufacturers allow citizens to install their playground equipment under the supervision of an experienced installer. Working with the Parks Commission and park neighbors, the city identified a design and scheduled a date for construction. When the time came to build the playground, there was an overwhelming response from the community. Fifty people turned out for the first day of work, including neighbors, university students, grandparents, and – thanks to the bilingual fliers distributed – two men and their children who didn’t speak any English but wanted to help build the new playground for their kids. This was the first of several local parks projects completed with direct citizen participation.
Living and Being Well: Community Advisory Board
The University of Texas School of Public Health (UTSPH) Brownsville Regional Campus spearheaded a Community Advisory Board (CAB) comprising city government, business, education, healthcare and social service and non-profit organizations working together to reach underserved, lower-income marginalized neighborhoods. The purpose of the CAB is to: (1) work with UTSPH researchers to ensure that health information and research is more accessible and more fully understood by Rio Grande Valley residents, (2) share information, collaborate and participate in forming networks and potential funding opportunities, (3) provide feedback on outreach and recruitment strategies, and (4) lead policy and environmental change interventions in partnership with local government and community entities. CAB has been instrumental in fostering partnerships and implementing healthy community-initiatives to underserved, lower-income marginalized neighborhoods in Brownsville. CAB began in 2003, with thirty-five members from various organizations from educational institutions to health care organizations. Today, CAB’s membership has grown to 210 members including a much broader membership base and has become one of the most significantly influential organizations within Brownsville and Cameron County.
Coordinated Approach to Children’s Health
Over thirty percent of Brownsville youth attending fourth grade are considered obese. In order to improve the general well-being of its youth, the Brownsville Independent School District (BISD) implemented the Coordinated Approach to Children’s Health (CATCH) at numerous campuses across the district. Several BISD teachers and staff members have been named as CATCH state champions. Brownsville took CATCH to a new level and differentiated itself by incorporating it in all 55 campuses, by developing CATCH champions and creating the “CATCH Binder” a chronological instrument which outlines the activities for each academic year within BISD. The BISD’s CATCH program is based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) coordinated school health model (as it relates to physical activity, diet, and tobacco prevention) in which eight components work interactively to educate young people about and provide support for a healthful lifestyle. The eight components are: health education, physical education, health services, child nutrition services, counseling and psychological services, healthy school environment, health promotion for staff and family/community involvement.
The Imagine Brownsville Comprehensive Plan helped define a new economic vision for the region. Prosperous vision themes were defined through intensive community engagement, describing a community with low poverty rates based on targeted industrial clusters that offer good jobs paying livable wages and sustainable employment opportunities for future generations. Winner of the American Planning Association’s 2009 Comprehensive Planning Award, the plan had two primary goals: first, to establish the community’s vision objectives for a ten-year planning horizon; and second, to develop an implementable strategy to help reach these targeted objectives by leveraging the community’s natural, institutional, human, economic, and infrastructure resources in an effective, competitive and sustainable way. In 2011, eight public entities from Brownsville came together to form the United Brownsville Coordinating Board to implement the Imagine Brownsville Comprehensive Plan. Another eight private sector (nonvoting members) joined the board. Among the projects that have been implemented or are underway: an expansion of the city’s anti-smoking ordinance, an ordinance regulating the use of plastic bags by retail stores, an expansion of hiking and biking trails and an effort to restore the city’s historic “resacas” (dry or marshy river channels).
“I Value” City Budget Input Campaign
In 2010, new Hampton City Manager Mary Bunting went to the public for input in an incredibly difficult budget year. It was called “I Value” because it wasn’t just about cuts or budgets. It sought to base a spending plan on the values of residents. The public process needed to be flipped, with input gathered on the front end, so that she and her staff could use it to craft the budget. This approach to participation required new methods. Citizens would not come to City Hall; City Hall would go to them. An aggressive outreach campaign ensued: Social media, e-newsletters, partner organizations, and neighborhood groups, local cable interviews, paid ads, fliers and word-of-mouth. Innovation drew free publicity: media coverage from both print and TV. The broad participation in shaping the budget helped educate and inform citizens about their tax dollars and what they buy. It created a model for building future budgets as the recession dragged on and housing values continued to decline. Ultimately, in year four of the process, residents overwhelming said they couldn’t support more cuts and supported a 20-cent increase in the tax rate to maintain services – and to invest in their city’s future.
Mayor’s Book Club
The Mayor’s Book Club was launched in October of 2008. Volunteers read a book each month to students in preschool, demonstrating that reading is fun and important as they serve as role models. Preschool students are given copies of that month’s book to keep. That’s a key component, because studies have shown that book ownership is directly related to reading level. By the end of the preschool year, each child would have a personal home library of 10 books, with a nameplate and the child’s name inside. Before the school year was out, the program was so successful volunteer readers were added to kindergarten and first-grade classrooms, donating books to the class and school library. The Mayor’s Book Club goes to more than public schools – also faith-based, private and military pre-schools, as well as community literacy programs. The five-year total value of books given to the students, classrooms and school libraries has already surpassed $800,000. Those books have enriched lives beyond their dollar value. Reading scores of Hampton students in kindergarten and first-grade have shown steady improvements since the program began.
Reducing the Dropout Rate
Seven years ago, more than 10 percent of students in the Hampton City Schools were dropping out of school, which was not an unusually high statistic, but the community was unwilling to accept it. Hampton City Schools convened a stakeholder group in 2007 to redesign the secondary schools to meet the changing needs of students and the community. The high school redesign positively impacted graduation rates and decreased dropout rates by holding high expectations for students. “Career academies” were designed to help students discover and explore a career interest, and to keep education relevant to their future plans. Each of the city’s four high schools developed a special focus area. For example, Bethel High School implemented the Governor’s Health Sciences Academy for students interested in pursuing plans of study in diagnostic services, therapeutic services, biotechnology research and development, support services and health informatics. In addition to the academies, the school system implemented programs to help ninth graders transition to high school; selected graduation specialists who develop individual graduation plans for off-track students and promote home to school connections; and implemented a virtual online program to assist students with credit recovery. The results were dramatic. Between 2008 and 2013, the Hampton City Schools dropout rate decreased from 10.1 percent to 3.8 percent.
Eau Claire, Wisconsin
Phoenix Park: The Dirty Past
When the City of Eau Claire took ownership of the tax-delinquent Phoenix Steel site, investigations revealed lead contamination at levels well above acceptable state standards. The city joined forces with Wisconsin’s Remediation and Redevelopment Program to clean up the site and revive the land, both aesthetically and environmentally, to serve as a community and recreational hub. The city used citizen participation concepts developed by the Institute for Participatory Management and Planning and suggestions from the Project for Public Spaces as guiding principles. This working group of city, business and community members crafted a vision and mission statement for the Phoenix Park project. Today Phoenix Park features 9 acres of green space, strolling paths, a fishing wall, two plazas and a clock tower. A paved labyrinth serves as focal point for play, live performance, and dancing, with more than 60 performances and celebrations energizing the space in 2013. The Wisconsin Bike Trail System, which was built on top of abandoned Milwaukee Road rail lines, now connects to more than 70 miles of trails in the city, along the banks of the Eau Claire and Chippewa rivers, providing park users with interesting, safe and scenic routes. The trailhead is a focal point of Phoenix Park and has proved to promote tourism and economic development downtown and well as served as a vital resource for commuting and recreation.
In March 2007, an informal meeting of city, county and non-profit organization leaders was convened to discuss the city’s pressing challenges, which included Eau Claire’s need for enhanced community services and additional facilities. This group identified more than 500 stakeholders. People were recruited into an ad-hoc coalition committed to implementing an inclusive, problem-solving approach to community planning. Additional members were recruited so that the group better reflected the ethnic, geographic, age, gender, and occupational diversity of the greater community. The people involved represented business groups, education groups, environmental groups, faith-based organizations, healthcare providers, housing groups, neighborhood groups, nonprofits, retirees, students, and government entities. The coalition secured $40,000 in funding from the City of Eau Claire, Eau Claire County, Chamber of Commerce, United Way, Eau Claire Area Foundation, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, and the Chippewa Valley Technical College. The goal was to strengthen Eau Claire’s civic capacity for effective collaboration by providing an integrated and coherent pathway that connected the community’s priorities, purpose, and actions across city, county, and school governance bodies. The group contracted with the National Civic League to facilitate a planning process that combined large community planning meetings and small focused work groups. Through this process, they developed a set of community values and implementation strategies with measurable outcomes. With the Clear Vision community framework, change is happening. Rather than having multiple agencies duplicating efforts, now the city, the public, and the business communities collaborate to make Eau Claire’s priorities its future.
The City of Eau Claire has developed a section of its Comprehensive Plan to promote public health in the built environment. The sections of the Comprehensive Plan are called Chapters, and the Health Chapter has become a model success recognized by the American Planning Association for excellence. The city encourages fitness and outdoor activity, holding a marathon each May. As part of the National Bike Challenge, residents have logged almost 23,000 miles and have burned more than 247,000 calories—ranking number 11 among 359 registered Wisconsin groups. The City of Eau Claire also encourages healthy nutrition through events such as the Summer Youth Gardens program where kids are given hands-on experience to observe growth, maintain plants and participate in harvest, craft and cooking activities. Participants were surveyed before and after the program on their willingness to eat specific vegetables. Willingness to eat red bell peppers rose from 39 percent to 81 percent, broccoli from 52 percent to 90 percent, and spinach from 56 percent to 90 percent. Collaborative work among community members, businesses, government agencies, and non-profit organizations has allowed Eau Claire and the Chippewa Valley to become an area primed for economic growth, recreational activities, and increased community health, wellness and civic engagement.