What makes a neighborhood healthy? - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

What makes a neighborhood healthy?

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ATLANTA -

How healthy is your neighborhood? And, what makes one community more "livable" than another?

These are questions that cities all over Georgia – especially Atlanta – are confronting. As more and more businesses across the U.S. are investing in strategies to drive residents out of their homes and into the community around them.

The FOX Medical Team's Beth Galvin joined the experts to track down the invaluable answer to a simple question: What makes a neighborhood work?

In East Lake, city planners recently returned to the drawing board to fine tune local efforts that would tear down a struggling public housing community and develop a prosperous mixed-income neighborhood in its place. The location would feature charter schools and a YMCA, too.

Amid the flurry of activity, it's the inclusion of a garden that Dee Lopes says has changed the way she and her son live their lives. She says she moved to The Villages at East Lake two years ago because it's right next to her son's school.

Soon after, the self-described "city girl" from outside Boston says she found herself in the East Lake Community Learning Garden. There, Lopes says, she's learning to grow her own food.

"I was scared at first to eat from the ground, because I was raised in the city,"Lopes said.  "And, you don't have farms up north.  So, that was different. It took me about six months to eat from my garden."

These days, Lopes says she and her son are part of a two-decade long city project -- to tear down a former public housing community. In its place would stand a much more livable structure and environment.

But, what makes a neighborhood thrive?

Nisha Botchwey, a professor of urban planning at Georgia Tech, says they've asked people all over Atlanta that same question

"They said that they wanted a walkable community.  They wanted green space, parks and recreation and they wanted healthy food access," Botchwey said.

But, fresh food -- like fruits and vegetables - can be difficult to come by in urban neighborhoods.
Over time, newer communities like East Lake are slowly working to change these landscapes.

Efforts include providing community gardens and a weekly farmers market -- where people use federal food benefits and get double produce for every dollar they spend.

Botchwey says the layout of neighborhoods is important, too. It's critical, experts say, that communities offer sidewalks and safe park access, like the new Atlanta Beltline Project, to local residents.

"People are out there walking, rolling, just having a good time… Juggling. And, what it does is it shifts the social norm.  So, people realize you can be out in this space and move through this space in a way that allows us to be more active," Botchwey said.

Lopes says she really likes the idea of herself and her neighbors growing something good.

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