How can we advance ideas that translate to a healthier future for all who call the St. Louis region home?

What are the opportunities, barriers and innovations we should be focusing on to ensure sustainable change?

These were just a couple of the questions discussed during our inaugural HORIZON St. Louis event on April 3 at the St. Louis Public Library, Central Library. The event united a strong group of speakers, including:

Together, the group focused on the intentional actions we could take to empower individuals, families, companies and communities to be healthier moving forward. The event is our first HORIZON St. Louis event with others planned into the future (stay tuned!). Thanks to all who attended and/or helped make the event a success.

Jason Hall on how wellness and economic development intersect
Economic development focuses on how we attract new jobs and investment, and there’s been so many fundamental shifts in this realm, particularly in cities as we collectively re-urbanize as a country. This brings forward issues related to sustainability, health and wellness, multi-modal forms of transit. And, the really fascinating shift is that 20 years ago, businesses mostly made decisions solely around economics and tax rates, etc. – but now, businesses are making decisions rooted in how they can attract top talent. So, for cities to be attractive to these businesses, they need to be great places to live first and foremost.

In St. Louis, my team’s been supporting the Chouteau Greenway project, which will ultimately connect the downtown Arch to Forest Park via walking and bike trails, while also establishing new hubs in the neighborhoods along the way. It will be a form of transportation and healthy living that’s fundamentally disrupting the status quote and creating positive opportunities.

David Polzin on St. Louis’ global health and wellness possibilities
We have such incredible brain power in St. Louis; I think that’s something to be proud of when it comes to our region. It’s not just about solving problems here in St. Louis one community at a time, but also being proud of how we can solve global issues. Just one example, there’s terrific research being done locally at Washington University in St. Louis on neuroscience. What if we said, in five years, that team had solved Alzheimer’s? I don’t think that’s out of the realm. We should be thinking beyond our own limitations and how we can have a real impact on the world at large.

Amy Eyler on health and wellness equity
St. Louis has a remarkable challenge related to health and wellness equity. In a recent report entitled, “For The Sake of All,” our department looked at health outcomes by St. Louis-area zip codes. The differences are staggering in a bad way. We’re talking about 20-year differences in life expectancy based on where you live and grow up.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has a concept around the culture of health, and how we need to have access to vibrant places where we can live, work and play. Spaces that facilitate health and wellness. In St. Louis, we have work to do to ensure all communities have access to these spaces and resources. Just because you live in a certain zip code shouldn’t mean you live 20+ years less. The bright side is what gets measured gets changed. And, the “For the Sake of All” report is opening eyes, igniting discussion and moving us toward change.

Eliot Frick on envisioning St. Louis’ future reality
There’s a futurist at the University of Hawaii I love, and his third Law of Futures is that the future is not predictable because it doesn’t exist. And, what that means is that from every moment here into the future that we try and predict, it becomes inherently less predictable. So, we’re really looking at possibility spaces.

What this means for community engagement is that we can’t just rely on the historical social science approaches like surveys to secure insight and then make decisions about funds allocation. What futurists universally recognize is that a vibrant image of the future isn’t successful if it’s exciting, but actually it’s more about multiplicity and exploring possibility spaces in a genuine way. So, we need to ask, how can we elicit visions of the future from our communities? How can we collectively generate more visions for the future?

Tracey Anderson on community engagement
We see so many initiatives related to health and wellness begin and then fall flat due to lack of participation and community engagement. I think we frequently develop good ideas, move quickly without taking time to engage the communities we’re trying to help about their needs, definitions of success and more. When we don’t address these things, we miss out on the potential of good ideas. And, then it becomes harder to revisit them. We need to make community engagement front-and-center of our efforts and it needs to begin at the outset of projects and initiatives.

We’ve made community engagement a cornerstone of our new master planning efforts for the city’s recreational future. People of all ages are open to sharing their ideas and like being part of shaping the future. We’re finding similarities across generations when it comes to desire for access to the outdoors, opportunities to move and engage. People want to feel they are in nature, people want to be healthy. And, when you talk to them and engage them, you realize we can unleash the power of their ideas.

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