I was very honored last month to be invited by the Arkansas Coalition for Obesity Prevention(ArCop), along with Mayor Stodola from Little Rock and Mayor Smith from North Little Rock, to host a “Mayor’s Mentoring Mayors” conference to share with other city leaders the vision and changes we have implemented in our communities to improve access to healthy lifestyle choices. While our methods and results may have varied, there was a strong common theme: healthy communities mean healthy cities. We were asked to answer some very specific questions before the conference. I believe these questions provide a deeper understanding of the shared vision we have for our city. As always, if you have any questions please feel free to contact my office. I would love to hear from you and your ideas for how to grow a healthy vibrant Bryant for generations to come.
Why is a healthy community important to me as a Mayor?
The most successful, prosperous, economically stable, and happiest communities of the future will be a measure of how healthy each city becomes over the next decade. A smart, healthy and active workforce will be attractive to families, and businesses looking to relocate. A healthy community is a human habitat designed for individuals to thrive and grow in the best manner possible. Human capital is our most precious asset and their best interest should be the pivot of all of our decision making. How we design and build our city should make the healthy choice the easy choice.
What economic return have you seen as a result of Bryant becoming a healthier community?
Bryant’s overall quality of life from the workplace, school, neighborhoods and public spaces is becoming what I call health activated. There are healthy activities taking place in all of these venues that you didn’t see as much 10 years ago. This is a real economic driver for continued growth and improved overall health. Healthy kids are smarter kids. A healthy workforce has a lower rate of worker’s comp injuries and sick days. As families and retirees are seeking where they will live they are migrating more toward areas that exhibit healthy attributes. Businesses want to be located where there is a strong, smart and healthy workforce. Recreation and entertainment is very much centered around healthy activities in today’s world. The more of these activities we establish in Bryant the more residents stay in Bryant. As our sports and activities programming continues to grow we attract thousands of visitors through parks and tourism which fills our restaurants and hotels and generates sales tax we can reinvest into our community.
Bryant received the 2015 Growing Healthy Community status. How did you get to that level? What are you doing to maintain or surpass that status this year?
It’s like spinning plates, sometimes the easiest part is getting the programs started, but creating a sustainable program is important. For example, if you create a program or build a trail, or start a farmer’s market, what human capital and monetary capital will be needed to perpetuate that program into the future. Bryant has programs such as the swim program and the baseball program that give a good ROI and have plenty of volunteers. These programs will undoubtedly be in place years from now. Other programs such as our trails program and complete street buildout are still underway, and we need both types of capital to build and maintain those programs. The dog park is another program that falls into this category and we are diligently working to win grants and develop a robust dog park committee to help with this goal.
What components of a healthy city does Bryant currently have?
We have great facilities that include Bishop Park, Mills Park, Ashley Park and others, trails, ball fields, a community center, a developing complete street program, community gardens, a vibrant Boys & Girls Club as well as a very active Senior Adult Center and numerous volunteer led leagues and programs.
What no cost or low cost things has Bryant done to become a healthier community?
The City of Bryant partnered with the Bryant High School East Lab to develop a community garden at Bishop Park. Bryant is also developing a 5K race schedule in partnership with civic and student organizations as well as engaging civic organizations such as Keep Bryant Beautiful to create a more aesthetically appealing, litter-free city. Bryant’s motto is “Healthy places are clean places”. An adopt-a-street program has been implemented to encourage residents and community organizations to walk along adopted streets and assist with litter collection. Dumpster days are also scheduled to encourage neighborhoods to get out and clean up on scheduled days. Neighborhoods are encouraged to host block parties. Healthy relationships with neighbors is a part of being a healthy community and a great way to identify talent within our community.
What has Bryant significantly invested to be a healthy community?
The building of Bishop Park was a great investment in our community’s physical health as well as our economic health. This park was built by a temporary ½ cent sales tax passed by the voters along with a permanent ? cent tax for operation/maintenance. Bryant is a community with a Complete Streets policy ensuring streets are designed and operated to make it easy for people to get physical activity as part of their daily routine, helping them stay trim, avoid heart disease, and receive the many other benefits of physical activity. Bryant is also a 10 year USA Tree City. Trees soften the environment, make hot days more pleasant, spring and fall days more beautiful to enjoy, and in the winter provide shelter for the critters.
What is the positive feedback from citizens on these investments for a healthier community?
The programming that the Bryant Parks Department has implemented over the past few years has created a lot of positive energy within our city. By their sweet nature and lifetime of experience, the seniors that use the Senior Adult Center and other amenities at Bishop Park are the most outwardly grateful. The younger generation often needs to be reminded it hasn’t always been this way. The partnership between the school and the parks has received positive feedback as well. The limitless opportunities these partnership provide, along with the maximized use of shared resources, allows for our residents and students to get maximized use of resources and has provided access to programs we would have otherwise not been able to provide.
Has Bryant had to deal with negative pushback and if so who does it come from?
This answer is directed at all community leaders including myself. If you lead you are going to get negative pushback. It is human nature. The key is determining if the path you are laying out for your city is worth standing up for. Is it the best path? If so, will this path have the support of the silent majority? If you don’t know, ask. Also, engage those that give pushback respectfully and sincerely. Often times you will find a simple conversation can change a perspective or you may find out by listening someone else has a better idea than you do. Other times you may just have to smile and continue doing what you believe is best.
What is one change you would suggest for cities to do to become healthier?
Be a strength finder. Discover what is great about your neighborhood, your friend circle, your community organization and build on it. Whether you are working toward health, quality of life, economic development, community engagement, infrastructure or other goals, building on strengths always works. All communities have weaknesses, however focusing on them only results in negativity and failure. By focusing on strengths communities develop a positive attitude and weaknesses are often forgotten or overcome.