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New Healthier Living Project Seeks Input from WyCo Residents

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Health advocates are partnering with students and faculty at the University of Kansas School of Architecture, Design and Planning to help Wyandotte County residents make their communities more conducive to healthy living.

The Community Health Council of Wyandotte County (CHC) is leading the effort with a four-year, $1.6 million grant from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention program aimed at reducing obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stroke in communities across the country.

Participants unveiled the initiative Tuesday in a small rehabbed office near downtown Kansas City, Kan., at 611 N. Sixth St., in the Strawberry Hill neighborhood.

The space will host a community design center operated by the KU School of Architecture, Design and Planning. And it will double as a learning lab for students and a drop-in center for residents with ideas on how to make their physical surroundings promote better health.

“We are here to listen and to respond,” said Matt Kleinmann, an adjunct professor with the architecture school.

Residents will be able to view maps at the center that will enable them to visualize what needs to be done where.

“This is a physical space where you can see ‘that’s my house, this is where I buy my groceries, this is the path between here and there, and here are some problem spots, this is why I don’t walk or this is why I don’t ride my bicycle or the bus isn’t working for me, you know I’d really like a bus stop here,’” explained Shannon Criss, an associate professor of architecture at KU and a driving force behind the partnership.

“So if we can build that communication, I think we will be in good shape.”

Students have already done some preliminary work, and Tuesday morning they were busy hauling in models of projects, including ideas for the Healthy Campus that Kansas City, Kan., Mayor Mark Holland has proposed for the western edge of downtown.

The design center is part of a broader effort CHC is undertaking with the CDC money, said Jesyca Hope Rodenberg, the organization’s director of communications and outreach.

That effort, she said, includes programs that pull pharmacists out from behind the counter and puts them in spots where they can explain how healthy eating can help improve conditions being treated with medication.

Rodenberg said she was enthusiastic about several initiatives planned for the design center, including development of a food-system map that would show residents where they can access healthy food.

“I still believe, and am excited to work with people who still believe, that change is possible, that we are not stuck with the status quo, that the future can be better than it was, that we can turn a community around by making it beautiful and healthy and investing in the individual voices of the people already living there,” she said.

Mike Sherry is a reporter for KCPT television in Kansas City, Mo., a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.

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