The Where of Well-Being; Community (Part 1)

Photo by Tom Rumble on Unsplash

What if I told you that your personal well-being is tied to the place where you are?

Maybe you have had a goal of increasing your own personal well-being by tending to your mental and physical health. You are ready to incorporate holistic approaches into your daily life in order to achieve more balance.

An intention of increasing one’s well-being is a meaningful and significant objective. By focusing on what we have control over in our lives is critical for exercising our autonomy and in itself can enhance our personal well-being.

However, when it comes to the conversation around well-being we should strive to see the bigger picture and to better understand the complex structures and systems that can contribute to or diminish our own well-being, as well as the well-being of others.

If we fail to address the roots of well-being it’s like having a leaky roof. You can put a bucket to catch the water and then replace it with a larger bucket during a heavier rainstorm. After storms and age you can only cover it up so much. No matter how many interventions or hacks you try they will not be sufficient. Eventually you have to replace the roof.

Similarly, with your own well-being, you can meditate more, eat healthier, go to therapy, exercise, etc. All of those in themselves are good things. However, we must address the larger structures that are contributing to our need to individually intervene. For example, if grocery stores were stocked with healthy, affordable and organic non-processed foods it would make eating “healthier” a norm not a goal to strive towards. We might not even have to label it as healthy!

Isaac and Ora Prilleltensky are psychologists who urge us to see and respond to people in the context of their lives. They identified three primary sites of well-being: communities, organizations, and individual persons. This blog post will cover community well-being as we begin thinking about where well-being is located.

If you are like me the first thing I do in the morning is make a pot of coffee. In pre-pandemic many of us would make our coffee on our way out of the house. Maybe you’d get out and walk your dog, head to the gym, stand at the corner to get your kids on the bus or leave for work either in your own personal car or via public transportation.

Think back to your morning routine. Visualize stepping outside your house and take a look around. You are in a neighborhood, a community. Most likely there are other types of housing surrounding you, either spread out from you or stacked up around you. Maybe you look around you and all you see is land surrounding you.

You might be able to get to work on foot, by train or car. Maybe you chose your community to be closer to your office or you made your life grow in the community you were already planted.

Now let’s think of life outside of work.

  • How far is the grocery store located from where you live? Not just any grocery store but the one that has the products you and your family eat with high quality produce and healthy options.
  • What about your doctor’s office?
  • Is there an emergency room close by if you need it?
  • How about your kid’s school? Is it walkable or are they on a bus before dawn to get there in time? Is it a school that parents are excited about their kids attending that will afford them the best opportunity in their lives?
  • Are there libraries or public parks close by?
  • When kids play at the park do they land on soft mulch or do you worry that when your kid is digging dirt they might find needles lying around?

Maybe you have access to public libraries and parks as they are around the corner, or a 15 minute drive away or possibly an hour bus ride or car ride from you.

  • What about public transportation?
  • Do you have public transportation where you live? If so, is it accessible for you? Do you feel safe getting to and from public transportation? Would a person in a wheelchair where you live be able to safely access the bus stop after it snows? Can you and other people you know afford the fees to use public transportation?
  • How are the roads where you are? Do you need a car to get around? What happens to people who live in your neighborhood who need a car but can’t afford one? What do they do?

I know for me where I grew up we didn’t even have sidewalks on the main street nevermind public transportation. It wasn’t walkable and you couldn’t get around without a car. Where I live now we have plenty of sidewalks and public transportation but when it snows it is almost impossible for my neighbor with crutches to make it to the bus stop. In fact, often the bus stop itself is snowed in, the plows covering it up on all sides.

In 2015 Boston got hit with a blizzard almost every Monday for weeks. This was what my street looked like. Eventually there was nowhere to put the snow to even get cars out making it treacherous for anyone on foot or in a wheelchair to navigate.

Think about the scenery.

  • Are there trees and green spaces?
  • Do you have access to clean drinking water?
  • Does everyone in your community have access to clean drinking water?
  • How is the air quality in your neighborhood?
  • What about litter? Are the streets and sidewalks clear or is trash blowing around without a trash can in sight?
  • Does where you live feel like there has been a lot of care put into the surrounding area or do you feel like it has been neglected and forgotten about?

Years ago in my neighborhood the city cut down all the trees that lined the streets thinking that it would discourage gun violence. In fact, the opposite has proven to be true*. Neighborhoods that invest in beautifying spaces and adding greenery, cleaning up abandoned lots and fixing up old buildings can reduce violence. Although these interventions alone are not sufficient as a resident I felt new life was added back to our streets when the city planted new trees a few years ago lining the entire block.

Think about the people who live close by.

  • Do you know them well?
  • Have you ever asked them for a cup of sugar? Or is the closest person down the road miles from you?
  • How well do you know your neighbors?
  • Who do you call up when you need someone to get your kid off the school bus because you are running late?

Isaac and Ora Prilleltensky write that interpersonal relationships are “the glue that connects personal, organizational, and community wellness.”

Share in the comments:

What can you do to connect with others in your neighborhood? If you could gather others to organize around one issue that impacts the well-being of your community what would be your priority?

*Creating Safe And Healthy Neighborhoods With Place-Based Violence Interventions

*Trees Shed Bad Rap As Accessories to Crime

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