The neighborhood that an individual lives in has been proven to have a significant impact on the health of that person. Healthy Neighborhoods, a coalition of community partners in Lewiston, Maine, is committed to maximizing the health of their community members by improving neighborhood conditions. Achieving a neighborhood that is entirely conducive to resident health will be a gradual process, but Healthy Neighborhoods plans to make a more immediate step toward this goal by investing funds from a HUD Choice grant to increase the number of healthy attributes in the neighborhood and to capitalize upon existing attributes. These neighborhood attributes have all been demonstrated to have a direct impact on individual health and include safe and affordable housing, access to medical care, access to healthy food, employment and training opportunities, social supports, and neighborhood amenities such as parks and other green spaces. Healthy Neighborhoods’ investment is intended to help facilitate overall neighborhood revitalization by demonstrating the neighborhood’s potential to a variety of investors and by increasing resident commitment to the neighborhood’s well-being.
Our project evaluated community perceptions of Lewiston’s downtown Tree Street neighborhood through focus groups in order to ensure that investment occurs in locations that residents believe need work and that it addresses community-identified deficiencies. It is a core belief of Healthy Neighborhoods that residents’ voices should be a crucial part of the neighborhood revitalization process, making focus groups an essential source of information.
These focus groups gauged opinions on neighborhood safety, housing, medical access, and healthy food access, and resulted in geospatial data as well as qualitative notes. The geospatial data was translated into GIS layers that visualize the responses given during focus groups, and a clear methodology for this process was developed to be used when further data is collected through future focus groups. This data will be used to select streets with numerous deficiencies (and ideally amenities that could be maximized) to be further considered as potential sites for investment and revitalization. Depending on the needs demonstrated during focus groups, this revitalization may take many potential forms such as the introduction of vendors who sell healthy and affordable food, lead abatement from homes, the transformation of empty lots, or improved transportation services to healthcare providers.
The downtown Lewiston area has tremendous potential for revitalization and Healthy Neighborhoods has sufficient funding, invested persons, and expertise to significantly improve the health of the neighborhood and its residents. We intend for the data and data synthesis methodology that resulted from this project to help inform the process of selecting potential locations and strategies for investment. We also suggest that an increased emphasis be placed on the collection of qualitative data in future focus groups in order to expand the currently very limited set of qualitative notes and to further enhance Healthy Neighborhoods’ understanding of community perceptions.
Robert, Cata; Halford, Emily; and Myers, Abby, "Healthy Neighborhoods: Engaging Residents in Neighborhood Assessment" (2018). Community Engaged Research Reports. 49.