Most everyone thinks of “big streets” as four or more travel lanes that move a high number of cars through a particular area of a city. Only partially true: big streets can also serve as connections between people and places of community appeal, innovation, enterprise and even healing, if they are designed and constructed to be comfortable and safe for all who travel on them. Fresno has an opportunity to invest in a project that is designed to enhance those connections and improve the quality of life along our city’s most beloved big street.
Across America, actively engaged communities are realizing that 80 percent of health outcomes are not generated by the health-care industry or medical services. Rather, evidence is clear that health and wellness of individuals and communities is primarily produced by what’s known as community determinants of health. These are critical local resources for prevention of disease, trauma and other threats to life, which promote wellness and resilience, such as having transportation options on big streets that include walking, biking and public transit with individual vehicle use on safe and attractive streets.
Each year, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute publish “County Health Rankings and Roadmaps” that compares all counties in each state along a range of factors, including length and quality of life, health behaviors, clinical care, socio-economic factors and physical environment. In 2011, Fresno County was ranked 43rd out of 57 California counties. In 2017, Fresno County fell to 52nd out of 57 counties ranked. Specifically for quality of life, in 2017 we ranked last in the state at 57th; for socio-economic factors, 53rd; and for physical environment, 54th. These tragic comparisons are big problems for those who experience the realities behind the data every day and for those who care about changing our conditions for the better. These conditions also represent target areas to emphasize the need for extra effort and investment if we are to reverse our county’s downward trajectory in health outcomes.
Locally, if the city of Fresno can be thought of as a body, Blackstone Avenue is certainly the spine. For a body to be healthy, its spine must be healthy. Better Blackstone is an emerging movement of local leaders, organizations and groups founded on the premise that the Blackstone corridor and adjoining neighborhoods, as the spine of Fresno, can in fact be transformed to produce improved health outcomes for all of Fresno. Building on new investments such as the recent installation of the new bus rapid transit line, Blackstone can evolve as a bright spot of healthy, active living and thriving places for the city. Its improvement can be an example to other cities. When successful, Blackstone can be a model for locally driven revitalization of our region, informing sister cities with decaying “spines” about feasible options and tried-and-true methods for lasting improvements.
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What can people who buy into this health-focused framework for social, physical and economic infrastructure improvement do now? Be engaged and a part of big solutions. Currently, the California Department of Transportation, the city of Fresno, Fresno Metro Ministry, and Local Government Commission have partnered with Community Design + Architecture to create strategies to enhance the Blackstone corridor, specifically from Dakota Avenue to Highway 180. This project includes extensive and intensive public engagement.
In June, a multi-day charrette was held where residents and community stakeholders provided input on potential pedestrian and bicycle improvements. The feedback from the June event and August workshop informed near-term and long-term strategies to improve the corridor. These strategies will be released to the public at an open on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018 from 3 to 7 p.m. at the Ted C. Wills Community Center.
Rodney Horton, City of Fresno Development and Resource Management Department; Keith Bergthold, Fresno Metro Ministry; Josh Meyer, Local Government Commission, Thomas Kronemeyer, Community Design and Architecture.