New York City

Mayor’s ‘Building Healthy Communities’ initiative aims to improve health outcomes in 12 underserved neighborhoods, including Bed-Stuy, Brownsville, Canarsie

September 30, 2016 From Mayor Bill de Blasio's Office
Mayor Bill de Blasio. AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews
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Mayor Bill de Blasio and Senior Advisor Gabrielle Fialkoff announced on Thursday 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 Brownsville, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Canarsie, East Harlem, Mott Haven, Hunts Point, Morrisania, 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 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.” 

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“Building Healthy Communities brings public and private stakeholders together to make critical and necessary investments in neighborhoods that need it most,” said Fialkoff. “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.

BHC 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 more than 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.

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.  

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.


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.


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