New guide connects local government decision-making and community health, safety and welfare

Local policy, budgeting, infrastructure and partnership decisions affect immediate and future community health and individual wellness.

Local governments are delegated authority from the state to protect the public health, safety and general welfare of their residents. Example efforts include police and fire services, water and sewer infrastructure, and regulation of new development. However, there are many more dimensions to local government’s authority and responsibility to protect health, safety and welfare of the community. A new guidebook by Networks NorthwestMaking Connections: Understanding Community Health, Safety, and Welfare in Northwest Michigan attempts to build a greater understanding of how local policy decisions impact public health issues in communities.

This resource provides an overview of the breadth and depth of community health, safety, and welfare connections to local government. It also includes resources for local officials and other stakeholders about the impact of leadership on local polices and budgets related to child and family welfare, behavioral health and basic needs. For example, a shortage of housing in a community, which is affected by zoning, can force a segment of the population into unsafe living conditions and possibly cause families, children and workers to move to more rural and isolated areas of the community where there are few resources and services. Making Connections outlines tools for local government to keep community health, safety and welfare at the forefront of decision-making and is intended as a conversation starter on the impact of local policy, budgeting and leadership decisions on long-term, structural issues affecting pressing community health and individual wellness needs.

Making Connections includes a summary guide on local policy impacts and tools for health, safety and welfare across various dimensions of community development. Local government roles that can positively affect community health, safety and welfare include:

Housing Policy Tools:

  • Zoning for housing choice
  • Zoning for shelters/transitional housing/supportive housing
  • Home repair and rehabilitation programs
  • Rental inspection ordinances
  • Tax incentives and abatements

Transportation Policy Tools:

  • Adopt Complete Streets policies, resolutions or ordinances
  • Provide for improved transit connections or services
  • Provide for improved non-motorized transportation options

Food Policy Tools:

  • Zoning for mixed commercial and residential uses
  • Zoning for food innovation
  • Institutional purchasing programs

Recreation & Natural Resources Policy Tools:

  • Provide parks and recreation opportunities in all neighborhoods
  • Provide park and trail connections
  • Partner with community organizations to provide and support recreational opportunities
  • Provide or improve barrier-free access at all parks and recreational facilities
  • Zoning for environmental protections and enhancement

Making Connections emphasizes the importance of partnerships between local governments and service providers or organizations and recognizes “…that because community growth and change occurs slowly, impacts or any new policy direction may not be felt for many years. But for those working to address the structural, systematic issues behind community health, safety and welfare, consideration of these policies and tools at the local level is a critical step in making real and long-lasting change.”

Making Connections was developed in collaboration with human and social services, local government and public health agencies. The project was developed as part of Michigan’s Regional Prosperity Initiative, which encourages local private, public and non-profit partners to collaborate on regionally aligned growth and investment strategies.

Michigan State University Extension educators can assist in facilitating discussions on health, safety and welfare among community stakeholders across regions of the state. Readers may also wish to review Social determinants of health, Good urban form promotes walkability and physical health and Aging in place: Implications for housing and community development among others. 

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