In her groundbreaking work on community well-being, Dr. Anita Chandra highlights the value of looking beyond economic measures to other factors that protect communities against despair and promote resilience. We heard many of these factors reflected when we asked residents across the Greater Birmingham region what was important to them: a sense of connection, engagement, and purpose; a feeling of security and belonging where they live; pride in the assets of their neighborhoods, communities, and environment. Together, these and other factors help create a thriving community, where quality of life and the well-being of everyone is valued.
Our Strategy for Nurturing Thriving Communities
What We Believe
Just considering a small selection of local data related to building thriving communities, it is clear there is plenty of work to do:
- The percentage of people with inadequate social support in each of Greater Birmingham’s five counties ranges from 14% to 23% (BRFSS, 2005-2010)
- The percentage of people facing severe housing problems in each of the region’s five counties ranges from 10% to 18% (RWJF – HUD Comprehensive Housing Affordability Strategy)
- The percentage of people in the Birmingham metro reporting their neighborhood has high rates of petty crime is 18% (American Housing Survey 2018)
- The Birmingham metro area ranks 10th of 100 metros in asthma prevalence (Asthma Capitals Report 2019)
- Birmingham ranks below 96% of peer cities in its transit score due to low transit access and usage (AllTransit)
We believe that a community only thrives if every member has the opportunity to thrive. Most residents want their communities to be diverse, accessible, safe, attractive, and engaged. To nurture a thriving community, we should support enhancement and conservation of the built and natural environment, ensure community improvements are available and accessible to all members of the community, foster opportunities for residents to unite around shared priorities, and advocate for quality services and facilities. We must recognize, connect, and strengthen the assets inherent to communities to improve quality of life for all.
The Impact We Seek
We will help improve the health and quality of life of all residents and neighborhoods, with a focus on the most under-served and dis-invested, by:
- Promoting a social environment that supports health and lifelong learning of residents and increases social cohesion and opportunities to participate in social and civic activities
- Fostering a built environment that is safe, attractive, and supports equitable access and utilization of public spaces and facilities
- Preserving a natural environment by supporting environmental health and sustainability.
What Progress Looks LIke
While there are many roads to building thriving communities, below are some measures the Foundation will track that we see as critical markers of progress. We will also track qualitative measures and – because this work is dynamic and we are learning – may evolve our measures over time.
- Increased access to arts, cultural, social, and recreational opportunities
- Increased community and civic engagement
- Increased advocacy and community planning efforts
- Increased access to high quality education (including early learning, K-12, post-secondary, or adult education/lifelong learning)
- Increased access to quality physical and mental health services
- Increased access to quality transportation
- Increased access to quality, affordable homes
- Increased access to safe, attractive community facilities
- Increase in environmental preservation plans, policies, and practices
We will also be tracking longer-term community outcomes like the data points highlighted above. Our premise is that the Foundation can contribute to moving the needle on these outcomes over time.
The work of Dr. Anita Chandra of the RAND Corporation on the Santa Monica Well Being Project has been integral to our understanding of thriving communities. The workbook from this project has helped other communities organize, collect, and analyze community well-being data and shape public policy and programs. Dr. Chandra emphasizes the importance of recognizing and building a community narrative around well-being, which is an often hidden but critical community priority. She cites studies showing the significant impact that access to amenities such as arts and cultural activities, basic skills training, adult education programs, and civic and social engagement can have on well-being. We have also found the Thriving Cities Group and the Happy City Thriving Places Index valuable frameworks and resources for community design, planning, and evaluation around the concept of a thriving community.