Health & Wellness Fellow Rachael Wilson travels to Planning Conference in New Orleans

Last week, I attended the American Planning Association Conference in New Orleans. I got to reconnect with former classmates from UIUC’s Master of Urban Planning, and I attended many inspiring and informative sessions, and connected with peers from across the country. Below are some highlights of my trip:

The most impactful experience for me was attending a session on creating and measuring the effects of healthy affordable housing. The presentation was given by Krista Egger, the Senior Director of Initiatives at Enterprise Community Partners. Krista also worked to develop the criteria for Enterprise Green Communities’ Health Action Plan. LUCHA is one of nine other organizations that participated in the pilot process of creating a Health Action Plan, and my position as LUCHA’s Health and Wellness Fellow is based on implementing and measuring the action items listed in LUCHA’s Health Action Plan for Tierra Linda. It was great to be able to meet one of the people who made my position at LUCHA possible. We discussed Tierra Linda’s progress, as well as the challenges of measuring health outcomes of residents. It is hard to find the balance between getting impactful data and asking residents personal health related questions. I learned that Enterprise is working on a survey tool for measuring health outcomes that they will share with all participants in the pilot program. This will help inform the work I have done on a resident health outcome survey.

As the Health and Wellness Fellow, much of my time is spent engaging residents in health and wellness programming. I attended sessions focused on community engagement in order to sharpen my skills and become a better communicator. Presenters emphasised the importance of accomodating the needs of people you want to reach, and being clear about the ways in which community input will influence a plan. However, one of my main takeaways from these sessions was about conflict resolution. Presenters encouraged us to look beyond individual positions on a given issue and try to understand the values that inform these positions. By centering the conversation on values, opposing sides are better able to understand one another, and are more likely to reach a compromise.

Furthermore, I am excited to be partnering with LSNA this summer on a youth and planning education program. I attended a great session that focused on engaging communities in climate resilience planning.  One of the presenters emphasized that youth who live in cities are already urban planning experts: their lived experiences and opinions about the built environment that they interact with every day should be used as “primary data” for planners who want to make more equitable places. For example, if youth are distressed because they see their friends and neighbors move away or get evicted due to rising rents, planners need to listen and prioritize practices and policies that combat displacement.

Many sessions at the conference centered on addressing the fact that displacement is plaguing cities across the country. Preserving and creating affordable housing was discussed as a crucial tactic in ensuring a “right to the city” for all. Although barriers such as funding and political support exist, it was energizing and exciting to know that so many planners are in tune with the need for affordable housing.

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