Excerpt from Lessons for Leaders:
Chicago’s Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities partnership effectively used pilot testing to implement pedestrian safety improvements as part of a Safe Routes to Parks initiative in Humboldt Park and to institutionalize healthy-snack vending in the Chicago Park District.
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Chicago is the nation’s third-largest city, with such a diverse population that no single ethnic or racial group has a majority. Though celebrated for many attractions, it suffers from significantly less parkland than other major cities. And low-income communities lack green space and healthy food. Both deficits greatly influence childhood obesity and other health problems.
The Logan Square Neighborhood Association is leading the Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities (HKHC) initiative here, along with the Active Transportation Alliance (ATA), the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children (CLOCC) and Chicago Park District (CPD) who have collaborated for years on strategies to support non-motorized transportation, healthy eating and active living at the neighborhood level. The team wants to increase safe access to Chicago parks and expand healthier food options in and around the parks, especially in low-income communities of color.
Beginning in 2006, the team collaborated on a successful series of “Sunday Parkways” events that closed eight miles of a boulevard connecting three regional parks (Humboldt, Garfield and Douglas) and five diverse neighborhoods to vehicle traffic in order to create a safe space for pedestrians, cyclists, strollers and wheelchairs and inspiration for further community change. Building upon the momentum, knowledge, and relationships generated by the events, the team targeted five park-centric goals to expand access to healthy foods and play and improve the built environment at city’s parks: 1) healthier snacks and beverages in park vending machines; 2) traffic calming in and around parks for safe access; 3) increased use of green space among young children; 4) healthier options at park concessions; and 5) increased edible gardens on Park District property.
Some accomplishments include:
- The execution of a healthier snack vending contract with Compass Group US in April 2011. A total of 106 new snack vending machines were installed in the summer and fall of 2011. The contract standards require that 100% of snacks meet healthier nutritional standards and include a schedule of fines for noncompliance. A research paper documented the success of the policy change and was disseminated nationally.
- The preparation of a new beverage vending RFP for all park property and the sharing of these successes with the City of Chicago as it shaped its own citywide healthy vending ordinance. The ordinance passed in December 2012, requiring healthier vending machines across all city departments starting in January 2013.
- The adoption by the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) of parks as a typology, allowing traffic engineers to recognize parks as a setting with unique characteristics and design requirements much like school zones.
- Extensive community engagement and capacity building through multiple traffic calming workshops attended by community residents, aldermen and their staff, and representatives from CDOT, CPD and the Chicago Police Department.
- The piloting, funding and permanent establishment of a “road diet” on a half-mile stretch of Humboldt Boulevard, a high-speed road bisecting Humboldt Park. The partnership secured multiple commitments from 26thWard Alderman Maldonado, including money and the establishment of a Transportation Safety Committee for the ward that meets quarterly. It documented large drops in speeding and traffic volume and large increases in pedestrian satisfaction as a result of the changes.
- The inclusion of information about outdoor nature play and Park Advisory Councils in training materials to childcare providers as part of the city of Chicago’s new childcare standards.
- The establishment of a “sofrito” garden at the Pedro Albizu Campos High School in Humboldt Park.
According to HKHC Project Director Lucy Gomez, “HKHC has played a key role in bringing parks to the spotlight in Chicago, improving communication among city departments, local experts, parks staff and volunteers, and advancing best practices within the Chicago Park District.”