There is adequate health care in the Healthy Living Hub area thanks to a Hennepin County Medical Clinic (HCMC) located on Zane Avenue, which is both centrally located and accessible by public transit. Interviews with residents, however, revealed that many did not know the clinic was available to any community member. To introduce more residents to the clinic, ACER and HCMC partnered to create healthy activity events that would draw residents in and connect them with health care providers.
First, they began hosting free weekly outdoor Zumba classes outside the clinic. The classes drew a crowd and were visible to passersby on Zane Avenue, creating a weekly reminder that residents were welcome at the clinic.
They also offered free walking sessions with HCMC doctors. Residents could sign up to walk on nearby trails, and were joined by a doctor who led each session. These walking sessions were designed to reduce any trepidation residents felt about seeking services at the clinic, while also introducing them to Brooklyn Park’s public walking trail system.
Encouraging More Active Lifestyles
Cardiovascular disease and obesity are among the most prevalent health issues facing residents in the Healthy Living Hub area. ACER and the county knew that it was critical to encourage residents to incorporate more daily movement in their lives. This required the partners to develop strategies for changing individual activity habits.
The Healthy Living Hub area already had parks and trails, but the partners worked with the Brooklyn Park Planning Commission to assess whether those amenities were accessible to all residents. They identified severalneighborhoods that needed better access to recreational areas. In response to this analysis, the city built a new basketball court and expanded the walking trail options in underserved areas of the hub.
Parks and trails are only useful if people know about them and are encouraged to use them. So, ACER and the county organized a community gathering at which people could choose their favorite form of exercise that utilized the trail system. Residents came out to walk, run, or bike five miles of city trails, creating a greater awareness of the amenities available to residents living in the Healthy Living Hub.
Finally, ACER took the lead in organizing Brooklyn Park’s first Open Streets event. Open Streets events are becoming a popular strategy in many cities to encourage walking, biking, skating, and other methods of car-free transportation. Organizers close major thoroughfares to motorized traffic, and recruit community organizations, businesses, and local government offices to come out, host activities or information tables, and connect with residents. The Brooklyn Park event was held on Zane Avenue, with hundreds of residents attending.
What’s Next: Working Toward Sustainability
The Healthy Living Hub was an extraordinary effort that used a small amount of public investment to generate major change in Brooklyn Park. Russell said that the next step is for government partners to invest in the program’s successful strategies for long-term, sustainable impact. Although the pilot grant funding has run out, he believes the Healthy Living Hub strategies should continue in Brooklyn Park and can be replicated in other low-wealth communities of color.
“We learned so much, and now we need to institutionalize what worked,” he said. “We can encourage individuals’ behavioral change if we invest in the systems change to support it.”