In most neighborhoods, there are essential components that should be in place to ensure that the community thrives and the residents are viable and can live fuller, more productive lives. In an urban center, I believe the following are the essential pieces of the puzzle.
A solid public transportation system.
This would include mixture of bus and train lines that run to and from the neighborhood with hours that are commuter friendly and with destinations that include retail centers and areas where there are active business and employment opportunities.
In my neighborhood, defining a school as “good” has so many hues and facets. Good could mean that a child can walk to and from school with no threat of physical harm or danger. It could also mean that the student to teacher ratio is such that class is not overcrowded. Does the school have strong academic programs and test scores, limited fighting and drug activity and administrators that are committed to meeting student needs and not abusing their power? These elements could make a school be defined as good. Other key characteristics include a robust curriculum including AP, IB and college prep classes and the provision of after school tutoring that help students leap academic hurdles. While there are several other components, to me, these are the basics.
Health and Nutrition
Last but not least, access to health care and nutritious food options is essential. Access to health care is an area that has become one of increasing concern for many Chicago neighborhoods, as hospitals on the south side have closed and there is increasingly limited number of level 1 trauma centers. In my neighborhood, there are mini clinics sponsored by Access Health services and Presence Health System and the so called “Docs in the Box” or drop in clinics via drug stores like Walgreens and CVS.
Nutrition and having a neighborhood grocery store is an area that has become a bit more challenging in certain Chicago neighborhoods. The current closing of 57 Dominick’s stores has left a gaping hole in my neighborhood. Part of the draw of living where I live was having a grocery store just 5 minutes away. Admittedly, my foray into eating more organic food has led me to shop at Whole Foods and Trader Joes, I still found myself many an afternoon after leaving the gym or evening after work picking up items from Dominick’s. There are apartment units and condo conversions that banked on the existence of that grocery store as a benefit to encouraging people to live in the neighborhood.
While there are several smaller grocers in the neighborhood that sell fruits, vegetables, specialty meats and a mixture of household goods, the reliance of having a central, regionally established grocery store in the neighborhood gave greater reassurance of the types of groceries that could be obtained there. My neighborhood is lucky in that regard to still have a diversity of smaller stores that can meet our most basic needs, it still hurt my heart to walk into Dominick’s for the last time and to see the empty shelves and freezers was just sad.
Preventive health initiatives and interventions are enacted by health plans and other organizations to help keep enrolled members healthy. But what kind of medicine, intervention, salve or a panacea can be administered to keep a community whole and healthy? For my neighborhood and others in Chicago, only time will tell.