Bladensburg Living Well
What is Bladensburg doing?
Bladensburg is empowering its youth to take the lead in improving the community. In the summer of 2012, 30 local students, ages 10 – 17, participated in the six-week Wellness Ambassadors -- LIVING WELL program in the Port Towns Summer Camp. Port Towns is a coalition of several nearby towns, including Bladensburg. During the camp, these youth acquired an in-depth knowledge of the environmental, geographic, and demographic make-up of Bladensburg through their participation in a Community Assets Mapping course.
The following year, pedestrian safety and walkability were identified by young people, including the Port Towns Youth Council and Wellness Ambassadors, as key priorities to spur active living. The majority of students attending local schools can walk to and from school, and ensuring that these pedestrian routes are safe and walkable encourages youth to walk rather than be driven to and from school.
As part of a subsequent summer camp activity, youth ages 12-18 worked with city leaders to develop a pedestrian safety policy. They also learned the skills needed to participate in the policymaking process. Building on the baseline data from a Community Assets Mapping Survey, the final policy recommended ways to incorporate biking and walking into transit systems, and created pathways for working across agencies to increase pedestrian safety.
For the final presentation of the policy, which was adopted in December 2013, the town brought in county council members and state senators. As a culminating event, the youth held a “Walkers Wear White” pedestrian safety rally that included a variety of elected leaders and community members.
What are the target goals?
City leaders have a vision for a thriving community with young people as the core of the town’s future. Just as Bladensburg has focused on maintaining and preserving natural areas and becoming greener and more sustainable in their city practices, the town is focused on sustaining and nurturing the potential of local youth. With a shared vision of participatory government, Bladensburg has been persistent in their involvement of youth in the policymaking process. Bladensburg has found healthy, active living to be an issue that bridges the gap between themes of community, economic development, and revitalization. Obesity is seen as a major community health challenge to overcome in Bladensburg among both young and old.
Who are the partners?
The Port Towns Youth Council and Wellness Ambassadors, which actively engages youth in community service and other educational activities such as the summer camp, helps youth become responsible, respectful and productive citizens and has recently been a key lever driving policy forward. Bladensburg’s youth use innovative techniques for participation, such as PhotoVoice (a type of participatory photography for social change), community asset mapping, and policy development.
How is the effort financed?
There was no outside funding. The city supported the initiative by donating staff time.
For Bladensburg, improving walkability, especially on the state highways that run through town, ties in closely with economic development, as many businesses need good pedestrian access to thrive. Communications from the town have also sold residents on the importance of adopting a culture of health.
Healthy food access is also a key issue for town leadership and youth. Working with ECO City Farms, Bladensburg and a wide range of partners recently created a residential farm on a low-income apartment complex. The farm grows fresh produce for local residents and the adjacent community. Residents were highly involved in the design and implementation process, and youth from local high schools regularly are on hand to help plant and weed. Through the summer, youth working on the farm experience opportunities for leadership development, personal growth, and job training.
The National League of Cities (NLC) is working in partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and with the support of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Association of Counties and other nonprofit organizations to assist local elected officials who join Let's Move! Cities, Towns and Counties (LMCTC) as they implement policy and environmental changes to prevent childhood obesity.
NLC Staff Contact
Institute for Youth, Education and Families
(202) 626-3012, Hoffnagle@nlc.org
Last Updated September 2015