The City of falls church, Virginia
The City of Falls Church was recently awarded the “Healthiest Community in America” designation by US News & World Report. One might assume that the City would rest on its laurels after winning such a prestigious award but that's not the case. Falls Church is determined to be even healthier and is taking steps to build on their commitment to provide healthy living opportunities for all residents. In September 2017, the City reinforced their commitment to health by passing a HEAL Resolution that outlines steps the City will take to identify and create healthy eating and active living policy goals.
After passing the HEAL Resolution, a group of engaged ity employees formed an interdepartmental committee to help identify HEAL strategies using the HEAL Policy Assessment Tool. The committee then formed three subcommittees to address policy goals for transportation, healthy vending, and urban agriculture. Nancy Vincent, Director, Department of Housing and Human Services and Falls Church HEAL Committee member, commented, “We saw the areas that may have needed policy work, and, from there, we voted on what the priority areas would be. The committees were then (formed) with representatives from almost all the departments as well as the schools and the Chamber of Commerce… It’s really a cross disciplinary workgroup.”
Over the past few months, the subcommittees have developed plans and recruited public feedback to create key strategies and policy recommendations. These recommendations will be presented to the Falls Church City Council at an upcoming meeting in June for their approval.
The Transportation Subcommittee is interested in expanding upon the City's current efforts to improve transportation access throughout the City. Led by Gary LaPorta, Revenue Assistant for the City, the subcommittee is reviewing the City's existing initiatives and conducting outreach to residents, businesses, and City employees. The subcommittee plans to partner with other municipal departments to update city plans and improve bike and pedestrian infrastructure.
Under the leadership of Genevieve Llames, Videographer, and Sandra McLean, Housing Specialist, the Healthy Vending subcommittee is working to launch a healthy vending pilot program at municipal buildings. The team intends to provide healthy vending at affordable rates and make nutritious options visible through strategic placement and signage. Healthier vending machines will launch this June at the City’s Community Center as well as at City Hall following renovations that are currently underway.
Since forming the Urban Agriculture Subcommittee, Carly Aubrey, Principal Planner, Sheila Frost, Senior Administrative Assistant, and Sandra McLean have developed a white paper that they will share with various City departments, commissions, and community organizations, including the Planning Commission, Environment and Sustainability Council, Chamber of Commerce, Recreation and Parks Advisory Board and more. The upcoming City Council meeting will be an opportunity to present their recommendations, which may include developing a Community Needs Action Plan and updating zoning regulations and the City’s Comprehensive Plan to create additional opportunities for urban agriculture in the City. While space is a limiting factor, the committee sees promise in innovative projects like rooftop gardens and aquaponics.
Aquaponics has already taken hold in George Mason High School, where students are growing fresh greens for the school’s cafeteria through a closed-loop system that uses tilapia to provide nutrients to the plants. As tilapia counts have increased in numbers, the school is looking for new ways to partner with local restaurants in the City and increase locally-raised food options for the community.
As a new HEAL City, Falls Church is taking an evidence-based and community-driven approach to selecting HEAL policy goals. The committee's comprehensive review of existing initiatives will help ensure they are building on past successes. The members' research on best practices and outreach to the community will help them create policy recommendations that are relevant and the most beneficial for the residents of Falls Church. The HEAL Campaign is eager to see the results of these findings and share the expanded health and wellness opportunities they will create for residents and City employees. Even with the designation as the “healthiest” community, Falls Church and its subcommittee members are committed to developing policies and programs to encourage residents to stay active and eat better now and for generations to come.