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Mayor de Blasio Announces "Building Healthy Communities"

September 29, 2016

Public-private partnership to improve health outcomes in 12 underserved neighborhoods

Initiative invests $12 million of private funding to increase opportunities for physical activity, increase access to healthy food and improve public safety in high-poverty communities

NEW YORK––Mayor Bill de Blasio and Senior Advisor Gabrielle Fialkoff today announced Building Healthy Communities (BHC), a public-private partnership designed to improve health outcomes in 12 chronically underserved neighborhoods across the five boroughs. Spearheaded by the Mayor’s Office of Strategic Partnerships and the Fund for Public Health, BHC is a multi-agency initiative that focuses on three key goals: increasing opportunities for physical activity, expanding access to healthy and affordable food, and making improvements to public safety. BHC leverages $270 million in public capital investments in addition to $12 million in private funding. The 12 neighborhoods BHC is engaging with are East Harlem, Brownsville, Canarsie, Mott Haven, Hunts Point, Morrisania, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Central Harlem, Corona, Flushing, Mariners Harbor and Stapleton.

Today’s public health problems are often complex, requiring broad partnership and collective action across sectors,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Building Healthy Communities is another step forward in ensuring that every neighborhood has the tools it needs to be healthy and, most importantly, it brings communities together to make the choices that instill a culture of good health.”

“Building Healthy Communities brings public and private stakeholders together to make critical and necessary investments in neighborhoods that need it most,” said Gabrielle Fialkoff, Senior Advisor to the Mayor and Director of the Mayor’s Office of Strategic Partnerships. “It is our hope that this new initiative will impact community health for years to come and create safer communities while doing so.”

The 12 designated neighborhoods have been chosen due to a historic lack of investment in parks and open spaces, unsafe public spaces and little access to healthy, affordable food. Most also bear the heaviest burden of chronic disease and poor health in New York City, including high rates of obesity, diabetes and asthma. The plan for BHC was developed through a multi-agency effort that is designed to join public resources with private funding and community-based engagement, and align all three in a comprehensive effort to revitalize our neighborhoods most in need. The City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Parks Department, Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, New York City Housing Authority, Department of Transportation and the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy have all collaborated with the Office of Strategic Partnerships and the Fund for Public Health.

The initiative is funded by Unilever North America; The Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund; New York State Health Foundation; Target; Aetna Foundation; Astoria Energy; Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield HealthPlus; The New York Community Trust; The Durst Organization; Merck Family Fund; Pure Edge, Inc. Success Through Focus; KaBOOM!; New York City FC; The U.S. Soccer Foundation; and adidas. The Fund for Public Health is leading the grants management and ongoing fundraising for the City.

Building Healthy Communities will expand access to physical activity by: increasing Shape Up NYC exercise class attendance to 58,000 each year and training Spanish speaking instructors to better engage these communities; building 50 new soccer mini-pitches at schools and parks together with New York City FC, U.S. Soccer Foundation and adidas through “New York City Soccer Initiative”; supporting “wayfinding paths,” or systems to provide guidance to physical spaces and enhance understanding of communities, and pedestrian plazas to encourage walking, running and biking; and implementing Active Design improvements to schoolyards and outdoor spaces to encourage active play and recreation for children and families.

BHC is funding five urban farms at New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments, which will distribute over 10,000 lbs. of fresh produce each year to residents. The farms employ young adults through an AmeriCorps program, Green City Force. Residents of BHC neighborhoods will also have increased access to nutritious and affordable food through farmers markets and fresh food programs. Additionally, HealthBucks coupons, that incentivize low-income consumers by offering discounts on fresh fruits and vegetables, will be distributed to residents and school gardens will be expanded through the initiative.

Engaged communities are safer communities. BHC is working with community-based organizations and leaders in each of the 12 neighborhoods to gather feedback and tailor BHC resources to the needs of specific communities. As part of this effort, BHC is identifying and improving open spaces with public safety in mind. Neighborhood improvement projects include community gardens, public art, sports activities and exploring the redesign of public spaces to promote security and prevent crime.

“Unilever is committed to giving back to communities it serves,” said Kees Kruythoff, President of Unilever North America. “This partnership with Building Healthy Communities brings to life our approach to building a world where everyone lives sustainably. We know that on their own, philanthropy, sustainable measures and business efforts cannot be fully successful. But by working together with our NGO and government partners, we can amplify the power of all stakeholders to meet the real needs of people living in underserved communities.”

“Increasing access to healthy food can be a vehicle for community change,” said Laurie M. Tisch, President of the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund. “This is an innovative neighborhood-based strategy to bring healthier food and economic opportunities to communities with higher levels of poverty and food insecurity, including Brownsville, Canarsie and East Harlem.”

“The Building Healthy Communities initiative recognizes that stark health inequalities exist across the City and fixing them will take a multi-pronged effort in the places where New Yorkers live, work, and play,” said David Sandman, President and CEO of the New York State Health Foundation. “Creating access to affordable, nutritious foods and opportunities for physical activity will contribute to a healthier City and we are pleased to partner in our efforts to make the healthy choice the easy choice for lower income residents.”

“At The Trust, we care about New Yorkers in need having access to fresh healthy food, training for good jobs, and green space,” says Lorie Slutsky, President of The New York Community Trust, the city’s community foundation. “We’re backing Mayor de Blasio’s Building Healthy Communities initiative through Green City Force because it gives our public housing residents all three at once. The Trust has invested to support the farm at Howard Houses and four other sites throughout the city, as well as to evaluate the effort.”

“At Target, we are committed to helping make wellness a way of life for our team members, guests and communities,” said Laysha Ward, Chief Corporate Social Responsibility Officer at Target. “That’s why we are excited to support an impressive array of organizations working together through the Building Healthy Communities initiative, doing such important work to make an impact in the wellness space. Together, we will help remove barriers to wellness in our communities, working to increase the consumption of nutrient-dense food and physical activity of kids and families across the country.”

“We are very excited to partner with Building Healthy Communities to help improve access to health education, affordable healthy food, and numerous fitness alternatives. Investment in infrastructure that supports the continued education, health, and well-being of the citizens of New York City is both an honor and rewarding,” said Charles McCall, CEO of Astoria Energy LLC and Astoria Energy II LLC. “Kudos to the Mayor’s Office of Strategic Partnerships and the Fund for Public Health in NYC for their leadership and great work.”

“Empire BlueCross BlueShield HealthPlus has a long-standing commitment to supporting initiatives that improve public health for people of all ages, including children and adolescents,” said Jack Stephenson, President of Empire BlueCross BlueShield HealthPlus. “That’s why we are proud to partner with Fund for Public Health to support Farmer’s Market for Kids, a free workshop that helps instill healthy eating behaviors for children and their families.”

“The Merck Family Fund is thrilled to support the Urban Agriculture Initiative of Building Healthy Communities which is supporting young leaders to build farms, grow food and engage residents. Congratulations to NYCHA and the City on this groundbreaking project,” said Jenny Russell, Executive Director of Merck Family Foundation.

“Pure Edge, Inc. works with school communities to help young people achieve success through focus against environmental influences of social media, peer pressure, personal and community stressors. We believe in working collectively toward building better communities and are honored to support the Mayor’s important initiative,” said Terry Grier, Executive Director of Pure Edge, Inc.

“We are thrilled to support the work of Building Healthy Communities through a Play Everywhere Challenge award and excited to see how the innovative Bronx Steps 2 Health project will provide a wondrous, inviting and unifying public space for families in the community,” said James Siegal, CEO of KaBOOM! “We are confident this project will inspire city leaders around the country to transform their own neighborhoods to provide kids with the active childhood they deserve filled with play.”

“Unilever is proud to partner with Building Healthy Communities to help support New Yorkers living in underserved communities gain better access to fresh food,” said Alessandra Bellini, Vice President of Food at Unilever North America. “With this program, Unilever seeks to make positive change in urban areas across the U.S. by providing education and access to healthy eating and living. In New York, we are offering cooking classes to the East Harlem community and have created an urban farm that not only provides fresh produce, but also jobs for local community members.”

To date, Building Healthy Communities investments include:

  • Urban Farms at NYCHA: BHC has supported the creation of three urban farms in East Harlem, Brownsville, and Canarsie, built under the leadership of Green City Force Americorps participants. These Americorps participants are themselves NYCHA residents who work with local partners, including Harlem Grown, Isabahlia Ladies of Elegance Foundation, and East New York Farms! to create and maintain the urban farms. Two additional farms are planned for the South Bronx and Staten Island.
  • NYC Soccer Initiative: In partnership with the US Soccer Foundation, the New York City Football Club, and adidas, the City is in the process of building 50 soccer fields across the city, which, once established, will include after-school soccer and youth mentorship programs with the City’s Young Men’s Initiative.
  • Fresh Food Programs: BHC is working with GrowNYC, Harvest Home and other citywide food leaders to expand access to fresh produce. To date, BHC has supported three Youth Markets – farm stands run by young people and supplied by regional farmers – and two Fresh Food Boxes – fresh produce clubs that offer fresh produce for up to 50 percent less than retail. These initiatives are currently taking place in Hunts Point, Morrisania, and Brownsville.
  • Shape Up NYC: BHC is significantly expanding Shape Up NYC’s free community-based fitness classes, including those offered in Spanish in partnership with NYC Parks. Newly trained Spanish language teachers are offering more than 15 new free fitness classes in East Harlem.
  • Active Design in Schoolyards: Working with the Department of Health, BHC will help schools and early childhood centers enhance their schoolyards and recreation spaces to support activity, play and learning. BHC just awarded five schools in the South Bronx and East Harlem with support for improvements that range from the re-design of courtyards to expansion of school gardens.
  • Improving Public Spaces and Wayfinding: BHC is working with the Department of Transportation and local partners to improve paths and signage to encourage more residents to walk and explore their neighborhoods. To help showcase great outdoor spaces like plazas, parks, gardens and waterfronts, BHC has produced community maps for Brownsville and the South Bronx. BHC has also provided support for sports programming and skateboarding workshops to encourage young people to be more active in their local parks.

“Living in an environment that promotes a safe and healthy lifestyle is crucial to improving the health of New Yorkers, particularly those living in our most impoverished areas,” said New York City Health Commissioner Mary T. Bassett. “While health inequities were created by the decisions of few, they can be redressed by the solidarity of many. I’m very pleased to see City agencies and the private sector coming together to address health inequities through the Building Healthy Communities initiative.”

“Building Healthy Communities means providing the spaces and resources people need to thrive – and that’s why I am so proud that NYC Parks is playing a role in this visionary effort. We’re rebuilding more than 60 historically underserved community parks as part of our Community Parks Initiative, and making it easier for New Yorkers to stay healthy and active by expanding our popular, free Shape Up classes, which are available in every borough,” said NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, FAICP.

“NYCHA is a proud partner in this holistic approach to improving community health,” said NYCHA Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye. “As we work to create more connected communities across public housing, this initiative, which incorporates NYCHA’s urban farm model, is increasing access to fresh produce and providing opportunities for young residents, while enhancing NYCHA’s sustainability and expanding NYCHA’s green spaces.” 

“Building Healthy Communities is a key piece of the work to help neighborhoods across this City be safe and thrive,” said Elizabeth Glazer, Director of the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice. “The neighborhoods where there are concentrations of crime are often the same places that suffer from poor health outcomes, low graduation and low employment. Because these social ills are inter-connected, improving safety in a lasting way requires the kind of work that BHC is leading. Public safety depends upon opportunities for expanded access to healthy food, work and play, and improvements to the built environment alongside policing.”

“I celebrate the expansion of urban farms at NYCHA and support for community gardening and food access community projects in Building Healthy Communities neighborhoods,” said Barbara Turk, Director of Food Policy. “I recognize and support the great work of many community partners that have been doing crucial food justice work for years in neighborhoods where access to fresh food is scarce.”

“In order to eliminate disparities and advance health equity we must address community health by attacking problems from all angles and with the support and cooperation of the public and private sectors as well as community members. We are proud to marshal the resources for this comprehensive effort to promote neighborhood health and safety across New York City and will continue our efforts to promote the work, cultivate new partners, and raise more funding,” said Sara Gardner, Executive Director of the Fund for Public Health in NYC.

“Access to fresh, healthy food and opportunities to exercise may seem basic, but they can both do wonders for public health,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “Investing in community-based urban farming, parks and recreation programs is wise and pays dividends.”

“By launching a comprehensive approach focused on improving the health of underserved communities throughout New York City, the de Blasio administration is providing a blueprint to address disparities in health outcomes and ultimately improve the health of all New Yorkers. Initiatives like Building Healthy Communities and ThriveNYC place a welcome and renewed focus on critical health care needs,” said Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried, Chair of the Committee on Health.

"The Building Healthy Communities (BHC) initiative is a bold and innovative step in remedying the health inequalities plaguing some of the neighborhoods across New York," said Council Member Mark Levine, Chair of the City Council Committee on Parks. "By correcting the historic underfunding of certain parks, BHC will help create safer and more accessible open spaces for communities to take advantage of, all in addition to expanding access to quality healthy food. BHC is a significant step forward in the ongoing campaign to make New York the healthiest, and safest it can be. I applaud the administration for its leadership on this issue, and look forward to seeing the positive effects this program has in the years to come."

"Green City Force is thrilled to be part of the Building Healthy Communities Initiative, serving as the backbone partner on the NYCHA Urban Agriculture Initiative. Our AmeriCorps members are young NYCHA residents leading community transformation while building skills and experience towards careers and college, with the support and partnership of city agencies and community partners. We are deeply appreciative of the tremendous investment the City has made in young people as agents of change in their communities," said Lisbeth Shepherd, Founder and Executive Director of Green City Force.

“We are honored to be a part of the Building Healthy Communities effort,” says Marcel van Ooyen, President of GrowNYC. “We have seen BHC’s positive impact firsthand through our grassroots programs like Youthmarket, Fresh Food Box, and at the school and community gardens we create and support. Thanks to BHC and other city initiatives, our programs continue to increase access to healthy, fresh produce in underserved neighborhoods and create the food and environmental justice leaders of the future through our education work like Learn it, Grow it, Eat it. BHC is a wonderful model of cross pollination that we hope someday reaches all New York City neighborhoods.”

“Building Healthy Communities is a natural partner in our work developing a network of green spaces that deliver measurable health benefits for South Bronx residents. Every day we see how well-designed, connected open spaces increase public safety and expand opportunities for food access and physical activity, and we’re thrilled to collaborate with colleagues city wide to extend these benefits to all New Yorkers,” said Deborah Marton, Executive Director of the New York Restoration Project

“New York Road Runners is proud to partner with the Mayor’s Office on the new Building Healthy Communities initiative to improve the health of New Yorkers throughout the five boroughs,” said Michael Capiraso, CEO and President of New York Road Runners. “NYRR offers a large variety of running and fitness programs and services for people of all ages and abilities, and we look forward to making an even greater impact on our community’s well-being through this important community partnership.”

“Through our Healthy Neighborhoods programs, we have firsthand experience about the complexity of supporting communities to increase access to affordable, healthy food. We applaud the Building Healthy Communities initiative for its holistic approach to neighborhood health and look forward to a continued partnership as we work together to make sure that all New Yorkers have the ability to eat well,” said Kate MacKenzie, City Harvest Director of Policy and Community Engagement.

"In places like Brownsville, where we work, new investments in parks and local food systems are critical investments in the health of the neighborhood. Most of what impacts our health doesn't happen in a hospital, but happens in our communities and in our day to day lives. We're delighted to celebrate the launch of Building Healthy Communities and excited to see the Mayor's Office, the City's philanthropic community, and so many residents and nonprofits working together to improve the social determinants of health in New York's hardest hit neighborhoods," said Rosanne Haggerty, President of Community Solutions.

“Working with strong partners to improve health outcomes in the south Bronx and especially Mott Haven is a critical focus for BronxWorks. We anticipate the Building Healthy Communities initiative will put a brighter spotlight on our work, especially increasing access to healthy food and opportunities for active living in the community,” said Eileen Torres, Executive Director of BronxWorks

"Urban Health Plan is engaging community support around the development a local market in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx - an at-risk community with high rates of obesity, diabetes, and asthma that also lacks access to healthy food options," says Paloma Hernandez, President and CEO of Urban Health Plan, a network of federally qualified community health centers in the Bronx and Queens. "Funded by a grant from the New York Community Trust, the market would serve as a community hub that offers programs promoting healthy living -- from physical activity, workforce development and improved food access. It's about empowering the community and helping develop a community-wide culture of health and well-being," said Ms. Hernandez.

“The Friends of Brownsville Parks works closely with the Building Healthy Communities initiative to improve public health in Brownsville. Through this project, we are working side-by-side with the City to activate community programming by making play spaces safe for increased physical activity and offering access to fresh produce and nutritious food,” said Duane Kinnon, Chair of Friends of Brownsville Parks. “So many of our residents and families in Brownsville are negatively impacted by the high rates of infant mortality, diabetes and cancer. However, with the right interventions like Building Healthy Communities, Brownsville is progressively healing and we can continue to work together towards bright, healthy, and active futures for our children and families.”

"We’re excited to collaborate with the Mayor’s Office of Strategic Partnerships and the Fund for Public Health in New York to increase access to healthy food and opportunities for physical activity in the rapidly growing immigrant community of Corona, Queens, through its Building Healthy Communities initiative. Corona is rich in cultural events, diverse foods, and sports, especially soccer, but it is challenged by overcrowding. We look forward to an investment in Corona that will increase access to the healthy foods our members love and support their active lifestyles by ensuring that adults and children will have spaces to play," said Theo Oshiro, Deputy Director of Make the Road New York.

"Harlem Grown is excited to be working with the Wagner Houses community to engage with and empower all residents to lead healthier lives. Partnering with the Mayor's initiative of Building Healthy Communities to develop an urban farm in Wagner Houses is a natural extension to the work we have accomplished in Central Harlem. We start with a focus on youth development through mentoring, farming and healthy eating, and then work our way through all age groups within the community, using intergenerational interactions to create bonds that grow beyond our farm space. We know that creating safe green spaces that all residents can enjoy and work collaboratively to grow nutritious foods is a solid foundation to developing a stronger and more sustainable community," said Tony Hillery, Founder and Executive Director of Harlem Grown.

"Our young people, our resident leaders, and our older adults are some of the strongest assets in our community. By building the infrastructure and programs that we need within our neighborhoods and NYCHA developments, we are creating opportunities for communities to build on their existing strengths and resources to make our city healthier and more equitable," said David Vigil, Project Director at East New York Farms!

“Groundswell has had the privilege of working with many of the communities encompassed by Building Healthy Communities over the past 20 years. The public art that we have created in partnership with these neighborhoods explores vital social issues that are meaningful to their residents, while beautifying public spaces. We are excited that Mayor de Blasio and his administration are committing resources to working at the neighborhood level to strengthen communities and the well-being of their residents,” said Rob Krulak, Interim Executive Director of Groundswell.

“The poor health statistics in the South Bronx drive us to truly want to make a difference in each and every patient, family, and neighborhood with which we connect. Building Healthy Communities in partnership with our Claremont Healthy Village Initiative is helping us move forward and succeed in our continuing efforts to Promote and Achieve Health Care Excellence for the communities we serve,” stated Dr. Doug Reich, Chair of Family Medicine at the Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center.

"Staten Island is burdened by high rates of preventable chronic disease that require the coordinated efforts of systems and partners," said Adrienne Abbate, Executive Director of the Staten Island Partnership for Community Wellness. “We appreciate the city's investment in Building Healthy Communities and are eager to align with the initiative to bring resources and equity to the most at-risk neighborhoods in our borough."

"Harvest Home is delighted that Building Healthy Communities (BHC) is joining our 20+ year efforts to increase access to healthy food in low-income communities. We pioneered this effort and now have 18 farmers markets selling farm fresh, locally grown fruits and veggies at affordable prices in 6 of the 12 BHC neighborhoods," said Maritza Owens, Chief Executive Officer of Harvest Home

“As a long time Brownsville resident, I am happy to be a part of the Howard Houses Farm. I manage other gardens in Brownsville, and want to see community gardens in Brownsville saved. Urban farms and gardens are important so more fresh, healthy food is available for the community,” said Brenda Thompson-Duchene, Founder of Isabahlia Ladies of Elegance Foundation.

"Building Healthy Communities is an amazing resource to not only traditional health-focused organizations, but groups such as ours that focus on building the small business community and re-envisioning how public spaces shape a neighborhood. The BHC focus is broad and takes into account the millions of factors that make our city strong," said Carey King, Director of the New Harlem East Merchants Association & Uptown Grand Central initiative.

Fund for Public Health

The Fund for Public Health in NYC incubates innovative public health initiatives that lead to improved health for all New Yorkers. Since its founding in 2002, the Fund has raised more than $400 million in public and private funding for nearly 300 grants to support programs developed with the Health Department. The Fund for Public Health in NYC is an independent, nonprofit organization that connects the NYC Health Department with public and private sector partners to build public health programs that make NYC healthier and safer.

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