Our community of Austin, Texas, is recognized as one of the healthiest cities in America. Yet, that recognition ignores the reality facing many neighborhoods within Austin’s city limits. Of all Austin zip codes, 78744—a community often referred to as Dove Springs—has the highest prevalence of youth obesity and lacks access to healthy food and safe places to engage in physical activity.
And yet there are bright spots. This tight-knit community has many resident leaders with experience advocating for improved healthcare access, better transportation options, and programs to improve resident safety and reduce crime. We know we can’t effectively or sustainably address complex public health issues like childhood obesity unless we partner with people within the communities most deeply affected.
In 2012, we partnered with community organizations, schools, and residents to launch GO! Austin/¡VAMOS! Austin (GAVA), a place-based, cross sector effort to improve the health of children living in Dove Springs. A year later, the initiative expanded to neighboring 78745. The goal of this place-based work is twofold: Support leaders in their design and prioritization of an evidence informed initiative that can help drive change in specific neighborhoods while maintaining enough flexibility to be applicable in other urban communities. And provide timely data transparency to hone in on strategies that are working, while moving on from those that don’t.
We’ve seen incredible changes in the two communities—such as improved quality of physical activity sites and greenspaces, reduced barriers to the use of those sites, and increased utilization of public recreational facilities, including recreation centers, trails, and parks. We’ve also seen the strengthening of community leadership capacity and institutional networks, primed to take on more challenges to access to healthy opportunities, and building demand for healthy options.
We believe a healthy lifestyle should be easily accessible for everyone. A resident-led initiative that leverages multi-sector partnerships and an engaged community is proving that it can be.