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Douglas County Health Department, Nebraska

The Healthy Community Design Initiative, also known as the Built Environment and Health Initiative, is no longer a funded program and the information on this website is not being reviewed and updated on a regular basis.

 

The Douglas County Health Department (DCHD) HIA Program seeks to establish an evidence-based system to make community design decisions and to build HIA capacity within both the local and state public health systems in Nebraska.

Program Contact: Andy Wessel

Program Webpage

2011–2014 HIA Accomplishments

Adams Park

The 2011 North Omaha Village Revitalization Plan called for renovating the 68-acre Adams Park, including creating an urban farming and community gardening center within the park. The City of Omaha’s park master plan, however, did not address the neighborhood surrounding the park, which has a large number of vacant lots, has high levels of crime, and lacks access to healthy food. DCHD conducted this HIA to examine how the proposed Adams Park renovation might affect the health of the community and to recommend actions to maximize the health benefits. Because of the HIA, the City of Omaha Planning Department identified an oversight agency to develop gardening and food production in a series of vacant lots near Adams Park. DCHD expects these changes to improve the quality of life for approximately 2,000 people living near the park. Read more about this HIA in HIA Stories from the Field: Douglas County Health Department and New Growth in North Omaha: Healthy Community Design at Work.

City of Superior’s Nuisance Abatement Program

DCHD provided the South Heartland District Health Department with technical assistance in conducting an HIA on the City of Superior’s nuisance abatement plan (NAP) to guide the city council’s decision about implementing phase two. The purpose of the NAP was to identify and resolve problems such as vacant property, dilapidated structures, junk vehicles, and uncontrolled vegetation. The HIA found that enforcement of nuisance code violations and continued implementation of the NAP would likely decrease physical injuries and chronic disease and improve mental health. South Heartland District Health Department presented the HIA findings to the city council, which decided to continue the NAP and adopted several modifications to the program based on recommendations in the HIA. Continuing the NAP will provide health and safety protections for approximately 2,000 city residents. This was the first HIA completed in Nebraska outside of Douglas County.

Cole Creek Vacant Lots

This HIA examined how 40 city-owned vacant lots along a 3-mile stretch of Cole Creek could have a positive impact on the health and well-being of the nearby neighborhoods. These vacant lots, created in 1999 as part of a flood buy-out and erosion control program, are now the responsibility of the City of Omaha Parks, Recreation, and Public Property Department. DCHD examined how three different approaches to addressing the vacant lots (stabilization, community gardens, and parks) would affect stress, physical activity, fruit and vegetable consumption, and social connections. The HIA reinforced findings from the Year 1 Adams Park HIA, showing that improving and using vacant lots can help to ensure the vitality of older residential neighborhoods and residents’ health. The HIA recommended that the City of Omaha adopt a policy to put vacant land back into use to support neighborhood stabilization and renewal, prompting the Natural Resources Inventory project to identify city-owned vacant lots for these purposes. In response to the HIA, a group of residents began to discuss creating a neighborhood association and community garden and made a formal proposal to the department to create a park on several adjacent vacant lots.

Crossroads Area Redevelopment Plan

The City of Omaha Planning Department asked DCHD to conduct an HIA on the Crossroads Area Redevelopment Plan, which proposes converting a 45-acre mall site and the surrounding 239-acre district into a walkable, mixed-used district. As part of the HIA process, DCHD met with the neighborhood alliance to identify community priorities and convened several meetings between the neighborhood alliance and the private developer. These interactions revealed that the community and developer shared common goals and demonstrated the viability of using HIA to engage neighborhoods early stages of large-scale, high-priority development projects. The HIA focused on the topics of walkability, public space, greenspace, and parking. The developer implemented some of the HIA recommendations—for example, by reducing the number of parking spaces planned for the site by 900. After the HIA, “Parking for Livable Communities” was selected as the theme for the 2013 Heartland Active Transportation Summit, attended by approximately 150 planners, engineers, design professionals, and civic leaders from the region.

Downtown Omaha Parking

This HIA focused on two forthcoming decisions the Omaha City Council was going to consider in 2015: 1) adjusting parking rates and 2) increasing shared (as opposed to reserved) parking. The HIA examined parking demand, the cost to build parking structures, the effect of increased pavement on the heat island effect and water quality, and the distance people are willing to walk from parking to their destination. The HIA found that existing parking management operations led to drivers “circling” to find free or less expensive on-street parking. This practice could harm health by increasing stress, air pollution emissions and exposure, and sedentary behavior. The HIA recommended that the City Parking Division and Parking Stakeholders Committee approve plans to balance the cost of on- and off-street parking, adopt shared parking strategies to reduce overbuilding, and create parking benefit districts to use parking revenue for improvements within the district where it is collected. These recommendations would likely improve safety and reduce air pollution exposure and stress for the 40,000 people who live and work in downtown Omaha. The Mayor and city officials used information from the HIA, such as maps comparing parking between 1941 and 2010, in both parking management decisions.

North Platte Mobile Home Ordinance

After DCHD provided training on HIA principles and methods for several local health departments, the West Central District Health Department, in conjunction with a local advisory council, conducted an HIA on the health risks associated with substandard housing. The purpose of the HIA was to inform the city council’s decision on proposed changes to the City of North Platte’s mobile home ordinance by describing how the changes could affect mobile home residents’ housing conditions and health. The HIA found that the proposed policy changes would likely result in improved housing conditions (e.g., more physical stability, fewer pests, and less moisture) and improved health for mobile home residents, particularly children. Based on the HIA recommendations, the city council approved an updated mobile home ordinance that strengthened housing standards for approximately 2,500 people. This was the second HIA completed in Nebraska outside of Douglas County.

Prospect Village Revitalization

The City of Omaha selected Prospect Village as its priority revitalization neighborhood in 2014–2015. This HIA focused on incorporating healthy community design principles into the Prospect Village redevelopment plan. The plan was the first time the City of Omaha used a holistic revitalization approach combining supportive services for residents with traditional housing improvements. Through the HIA process, community members identified property maintenance, social connections, and recreational opportunities for children as the three priority areas with the strongest opportunities to improve health (beyond those expected from improved housing conditions). The HIA recommended ways for the City and the newly formed Prospect Village Neighborhood Association to ensure that housing and social capital improvements continue beyond the one-year revitalization period to help improve health and quality of life for 1,800 residents. For example, the HIA suggested that neighborhood priorities, such as a permanent community garden and pocket park, be reflected in community development projects. After completion of the HIA, the City Planning Department began working with DCHD to incorporate HIA principles into its National Environmental Policy Act reviews and future redevelopment projects.

South 24th Street Road Diet

This HIA assessed a proposal by the City of Omaha to add a center turn lane on South 24th Street and reduce the number of lanes from four to three, a process commonly called a “road diet.” DCHD included input from affected residents and community groups in the HIA and involved community members in the decision-making process. The HIA estimated that the proposed road diet would reduce crashes by 50 per year and help address the community’s concerns about speeding and pedestrian safety. The City of Omaha included the HIA report in their preliminary engineering request for proposals to modify South 24th Street, and the applicants heavily referenced the HIA in their submitted proposals. Once completed, the lane reduction will improve safety for approximately 15,000 people who use South 24th Street every day.

Zoning for Walkable Mixed-Use Neighborhoods

The City of Omaha Planning Department requested an HIA to determine how their proposal to create a new zoning classification for walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods might affect health. DCHD conducted a desktop HIA that reviewed scientific research on the impact of walkable neighborhoods on walking behavior, health outcomes, and other health determinants, such as housing affordability and transportation costs. The Planning Department used this HIA to help make the case for form-based zoning that can support walkable environments and active transportation, as opposed to conventional single-use zoning codes. Within a few years of conducting this HIA, the City of Omaha had identified several neighborhoods as possible locations for implementing form-based codes.

Tools and Resources for HIA Practitioners

The DCHD HIA Program developed the following resources:

  • A walking guide for running errands in downtown Omaha (partner collaboration)
  • A walkability assessment tool adapted for Omaha
  • An on-line HIA training for students enrolled in an environmental health course
  • A Citizens’ Academy for Omaha’s Future to inform residents about transportation and land-use decision-making processes (partner collaboration)
  • A local walkability team

Partners

  • City of Omaha
  • Creighton University
  • Live Well Omaha
  • Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services
  • Omaha by Design
  • Omaha Metropolitan Area Planning Agency
  • Omaha Public Library
  • Wellness Council of the Midlands
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