I just returned from a short jaunt to Cincinnati where I met with leaders from go Vibrant, a new grass-roots health initiative with the purpose of promoting “irresistible experiences” for Downtown visitors.
- Establish, Manage, and Promote Walking Routes
- Serve as a Connector to Private and Public Entities
- Create Irresistible Experiences for all of Cincinnati
With only 1.5 FTEs, go Vibrant utilizes the volunteer force of young professional groups that when executed effectively, their production equates to about 10 FTEs. Using historic landmarks [Fountain Square] and preserved “bones” from old infrastructure [The Purple People Pedestrian bridge], go Vibrant promotes 1, 3 and 5 mile walking routes throughout Cincinnati’s Downtown. They also orchestrate spontaneous “Pop-Up” promotional events in both dense and less populated public spaces. These outdoor pop-up events, known as “irresistible experiences”, range from setting up stationary bikes with pedal-generated blenders attached to them to branded portable Ping-Pong tables. Despite their short lived existence, go Vibrant is generating requests to expand their Downtown initiatives into adjacent municipalities located in both Ohio and Kentucky.
One particular nuance of go Vibrant’s mission I was particularly intrigued with was their deliberate exclusion of the term “health” in the execution of their three pillars. According to Tom Tressler, go Vibrant’s Executive Director, if you provide irresistible experiences for people, improved health and social well-being becomes an unexpected bi-product of thoughtful social engagement [paraphrasing]. They want to inspire people to be more active through fun and entertaining activities using Cincy’s public spaces.
Tom’s philosophy reminded me of a similar view in an article I received at the 49th Making Cities Livable Conference in Portland earlier this year.
“The experience of life in the city comprises the sum total of all encounters, relationships and experiences with other people during the course of the day. Well-being arises from contacts that are satisfying, and enjoyable, that affirm persons as individuals and as members of a community. The city must provide occasions and places for such good experiences to occur. Participation in social interactions makes an essential contribution to personal well-being. Impoverishment in social contact may result in a sense of isolation, meaninglessness for individuals and in the dissolution of social bonds for the community” – the late Henry L. Lennard, Professor of Sociology and Psychiatry at the UC- SF and founder of International Making Cities Livable.
I personally believe a City Center that encourages socialization provides opportunities for the exchange of details such as family and work life, one’s health, finances, and plans and hopes of all kinds. Information exchange between the young and old, rich and poor helps maintain friendships and social networks. Jacksonville has an opportunity to design a “health-infused” Downtown to facilitate these meaningful social interactions and equip people with the capacity to make a healthy choice, an easy choice. It is well documented that healthy urban spaces not only produce healthier populations but also generates the economic vitality that every Downtown needs for sustainability. In contrast to my friends at go Vibrant, I disagree with their decision to avoid the word “health” or position health solely as a bi-product of good guerrilla marketing strategies. Health is not the antithesis of good urban design and redevelopment. It IS good urban design. In fact, health has been proven to be both a catalyst to AND a bi-product of good urban design. When public urban spaces are purposefully and unequivocally designed and infused with a strong health imperative, economic vitality and improved quality of life are solid bi-products. For example, in Portland, their Parks and Recreation Department’s mission statement is “Healthy Parks; Healthy Portland”. That’s a pretty deliberate health imperative. They aren’t afraid of the term or the purpose of their park strategy.
I learned a lot from go Vibrant leaders. They are filled with well-executed bundle of creative health promoting ideas. I am looking forward to using some of go Vibrant’s concepts and integrating them into our own unique downtown Jacksonville health initiative.
Give the Health Planning Council and its partner one year. I have a feeling we will be hosting other city leaders who want to learn more about Downtown Jacksonville’s heath-infused redevelopment efforts.