Phoenix, Arizona


Excerpt from Lessons for Leaders:

The Maryvale on the Move initiative in Phoenix worked energetically and persistently to engage, prepare and involve low-income residents through training, assessments and a variety of real-time opportunities to collaborate with professionals and advocate for change. It produced solid health-equity results across an array of strategies by removing barriers to participation, lifting community voices and embedding equity into a number of important policy and environmental changes.

For more information, read the full story.

November 2013

In less than 20 years, tremendous growth has turned Phoenix into the nation’s sixth-largest city. However, the expansion of critical infrastructure has not kept pace with its surge in population and land development. The imbalance is particularly acute in older neighborhoods, where there are too few safe and accessible parks, community centers, streets, bike paths, pools and other facilities for the burgeoning ranks of children.

Many of these youth are at risk of obesity and overweight, and the lack of community resources is a real hurdle for physical activity. Phoenix’s desert-hot climate is an added barrier; with temperatures hovering around 100 degrees for a third of the year, playing outdoors is unappealing and potentially dangerous.

With funding through Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities, Phoenix implemented “Maryvale on the Move” (MTM), an initiative named after the 76% Latino village west of downtown served as the pilot location for policies and environmental changes to prevent childhood obesity. Maryvale has more than 208,000 residents—37 percent of whom are less than 18 years of age—and the challenges to their active living and healthy eating are a microcosm of Phoenix’s concerns.

In Arizona, the shifting climate over immigration issues during tough economic times, combined with barriers to civic engagement, keep many from taking advantage of existing resources or pressing for neighborhood improvements. “That’s what makes the multiple partners and broad collaboration of MTM so important”, noted the original project director, Jane Pearson. “We have the tools and the strengths to create effective, inclusive solutions that allow us to build new bridges.”

Facilitated by St. Luke’s Health Initiatives, the MTM partnership includes resident leaders and an array of community development-oriented nonprofit and public agencies and staff.  Together, they worked to establish new policies, places and programs that are a good fit for Maryvale’s diverse population.

With a high level of involvement by community stakeholders, MTM partners have:

  • Incorporated healthy community design principles in the Maryvale Core Plan and in drafts of the Phoenix General Plan, which will be voted on by the public in 2015.
  • Collaborated on the development of the “Healthy Community Design Toolkit,” which provides advice on institutionalizing health policy and implementation in general plans.
  • Established and sustained multiple community gardens and supported training for three bilingual, bicultural residents to become master gardeners and provide technical assistance to Spanish-speaking community members.
  • Crafted and secured approval of a text amendment to the zoning ordinance supporting community gardens and farmers markets as well as policy guidelines to assist with implementation.
  • Secured much-needed improvements to the walkability and bikeability of the Golden Gate neighborhood, including sidewalk installation and a traffic-calming measure.
  • Influenced the revised master plan for Cielito Park, expanded its budget and features, and improved a walking path and lighting to provide a safe route for students between the neighborhood and two adjacent schools.
  • Utilized technical assistance and supported a grass roots response to the sale of neighborhood parkland for the construction of dorms for a private university, and then secured passage of a citywide policy that ensures a thoughtful, transparent and consultative process before authorizing conversions and/or sales of municipal parkland.
  • Advocated successfully for a greater policy and built environment emphasis in the city’s Fit PHX initiative.
  • Established Maryvale as a highly ready pilot for a new citywide work group that is focusing on bringing healthy food retail to food deserts.
  • Established a PHX Complete Streets Working Group that is leading the charge for a complete streets policy as well as resources and structures to implement it.

Beyond the immediate achievements of initiative, the larger relationship between the City of Phoenix and the communities it serves is becoming more collaborative. According to Project Coordinator Gail LaGrander, “The advocacy for community gardens, parks and complete streets all have something major in common. Community stakeholders organized, stepped up, and provided great and visible value to the City during the policy development process. And city staff appreciated the contributions. More opportunities are taking shape. This speaks loudly to the value of community engagement and the success of our approach.”

Phoenix, Arizona