Monday, April 29, 2019

A year-long joint project between URP students, faculty and staff from the College of Public Health, as well as students from Grinnell College, is studying how to improve the health of those living in Newton, Iowa. Newton is about 35 miles east of Des Moines, has a population of 15,000, and was selected as a community to evaluate how residents can prevent obesity and increase nutrition.

Two student groups are focusing on either nutrition or how the built environment influences health, particularly physical activity, which is where urban planning comes in. URP students Zhi Chen and Dillon Constant are looking at how the built environment can be conducive to daily exercise. Factors can include sidewalk connectivity, walkability, whether the sidewalks are shaded by trees, if the streets have bike lanes, adequate street lighting, and other features considered in street design and amenities.

Chen and Constant needed to apply and be accepted into the research project, which is being supported by former Iowa Governor and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and the Rockefeller Foundation. Chen began working on this active living corridor study in summer 2018. The two met when, Constant, a first-year URP student, began as a graduate student in planning at UI last fall and Chen learned of his connection with Newton. Constant grew up in Newton and jumped at the chance to be involved in bettering his hometown community. The project has additionally brought them in contact with URP alum Erin Chambers, who is the City of Newton’s Community Development Director. The research done will be used in preparing a grant proposal to the Rockefeller Foundation for taking the next step and implementing the resulting recommendations.

Read more about the project and URP’s involvement in an article recently published in Iowa Now.


Photo courtesy of the UI Office of Outreach and Engagement