Rebecca Perkins, Healthier Somerset
November 27, 2017
Healthier Somerset was awarded a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant last year to create a culture of health in Bound Brook and South Bound Brook. The project, “Building Bridges to Better Health,” seeks to make Bound Brook and South Bound Brook healthy communities.
The initiative launched in November 2016 with a series of focus groups and key informant interviews designed to provide a deeper understanding of community resources and concerns.
Focus groups included longtime residents, adult Latino populations, and parents of children enrolled in local K-12 public schools. Key informant interviews included health providers, elected officials, public school administrators, law enforcement and social service nonprofit organizations.
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Based on feedback from these initiatives and from information gained at the November community launch, the team developed a survey for residents of the community. The survey covered the respondents’ feelings about safety, transportation, community services, food and nutrition, schools, and health and healthcare.
As a response to the survey, the grant leadership team — American Lung Association of New Jersey; Family and Community Health Sciences of Rutgers Cooperative Extension; Middle-Brook Regional Health Commission; Middle Earth; and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset in Somerville — has begun a new transportation initiative.
The transportation action team is working with Walter Lane, director of the Planning Division of Somerset County, and Jeanne Herb, associate director of Environmental Analysis and Communications Group at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy of Rutgers University.
The initiative has two parts: transportation infrastructure and opportunities to increased access for active recreation. Each section will be addressed by second-year graduate students in planning at the Bloustein School as a capstone project, a requirement for graduation.
The first project will assess Bound Brook and South Bound Brook infrastructure for walkability, bikeability and access to transportation opportunities, including shuttles and public transportation.
The team, which will be composed of up to 20 students, will walk the towns, noting unsafe corridors and crossings, issues with infrastructure such as crumbling sidewalks, lack of pedestrian and disability access, and other areas that would present transportation challenges.
The team will then produce a full documentation of the challenges in a written record that is designed to coordinate seamlessly with New Jersey Department of Transportation’s grant process. It will be completed by May 2018, which is the deadline for NJDOT grant applications.
The second initiative is designed as a studio course that will focus solely on increased opportunities for active recreation in Bound Brook on the Raritan River, such as kayaking and canoeing. The students will examine land parcels that are contiguous to downtown Bound Brook and will review the safety and regulatory challenges the project presents.
“Enhanced transportation options” were identified as one of five themes set as priorities in the project team’s Blueprint for Action. The remaining priorities are expansion of school based programming; improved communication about current resources and programming; creation of free/low cost programming at local, trusted sources; and integrating health into decision-making at a policy level.
The grant leadership team welcomes community participation in the projects. For more information, visit Healthier Somerset’s website at www.healthiersomerset.org/grants.html.
Rebecca Perkins is the project manager for Healthier Somerset