Somerville, Massachusetts


Excerpt from Lessons for Leaders:

Shape Up Somerville pursued greater engagement of immigrants and youth by creating structured initiatives with established community partners who serve these groups, and by supporting them with contracts to support their time and help build their capacity. In addition to accomplishing its engagement goals, this approach resulted in increased support for a mobile farmers’ market, created a health and civic engagement ESL curriculum, improved park design and established new systems within city government to contract with community-based organizations in the future.

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November 2013

Somerville is a small, highly diverse and densely-populated city that abuts Boston. For much of a decade, the city has been at the forefront of initiatives promoting healthy eating and active living. These have been propelled by an engaged community, a highly supportive mayor and many public and private partners. Somerville continues to receive national attention for its innovative efforts to combat obesity and to advance a healthy lifestyle.

Under Mayor Joseph Curtatone’s leadership, the city and its partners have worked to create and maintain Shape Up Somerville (SUS), a campaign to improve access to affordable healthy foods and to increase opportunities for physical activity. They used the Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities funding to expand Shape Up Somerville (SUS) across a full range of disciplines within local government, improve community engagement to ensure it is not just a top-down initiative, and emphasize supports for children and families at-risk and in underserved neighborhoods like Winter Hill and East Somerville.

Even in Somerville, there is still a lot of work to do. “The challenge will be to think this out for the long term and figure how to sustain the culture change in the years and decades ahead,” said mayor aide Jesse Baker.

Key accomplishments include:

  • Expanded the Shape Up Somerville approved restaurants healthy dining program.
  • Built capacity among youth advocates and ESL student/leaders from multiple immigrant populations and engaged them in healthy eating and active living assessment and advocacy. The work emphasized playground and schoolyard design and access to affordable, healthy produce in order to improve use of new facilities.
  • Expanded the Farmers’ Market program to include a new indoor, winter market and a mobile market with six locations, all of which accept nutrition assistance programs and most of which serve low-income neighborhoods or public housing. It also established electronic benefit transfer (EBT) machines at two existing markets.
  • Launched and expanded SomerStreets – an “open streets” initiative.
  • Became the first community in Massachusetts to approve an urban agriculture ordinance.
  • Approved a 20-year comprehensive plan as well as transit-oriented development plans for coming transit stations that will continue to increase access to healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity.
  • Operationalized two full-time positions in the City budget to directly support the Shape Up Somerville initiative.

Health Department Director, Paulette Renault-Caragianes summed it up well. “This is now imbedded in the DNA of our government and much of our community.”

Somerville, Massachusetts