The UNH Blog

What Makes for a Healthy Community?

Friday, March 30, 2012

Lately, I‘ve been thinking a lot about UNH’s work in promoting “healthy communities”. But, what really defines a healthy community?  Because UNH and our members, which are settlement houses and community centers across NYC, operate primarily in what is called either the human services or social services sector, we tend to name services like child care, after-school programs, and senior centers as essential components of healthy communities. UNH also heavily focuses its advocacy efforts on these types of services, reinforcing this idea.

But, when I think of what makes the community in which I live a stable and healthy one, I begin thinking beyond the critical human services that our members provide. I also think about being close to a safe and well-maintained park (in my case, Riverside Park in Manhattan); a reliable subway line; street lights that work; a building in which the elevator and intercom function; health care institutions that are nearby and of high quality.  The presence of these sorts of community assets is vital, not just for a middle class community like mine, but for every community in our city. It’s time for “human services” advocates like ourselves to begin thinking about what we do in a more expansive and inclusive way.  Yes, we absolutely need services that address the unique needs of people in need or who have been left out and left behind, such as the domestic violence support that Arab-American Family Support Center offers or the new  innovative senior centers  at BronxWorks and Lenox Hill Neighborhood House.  However, we also need a certain basic level of community service for the well-being of all the humans in our city! 

A healthy community is built on many moving parts. The human services that UNH and our members advocate for and provide are essential in creating engaged  community residents, educating children outside of the school day, promoting mental health among senior residents, and much more. However, without resources like safe streets and homes, accessible health care, or clean green spaces, the people we serve cannot thrive to their fullest potential when they leave the doors of our member agencies.

I submit that housing, health care, parks, and schools are as critical as any other human service if we want to create stable communities and a healthy City.   It’s time to include the broader context and redefine what essential “human services” really are! 

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