What would it take to address the 13-year discrepancy in life expectancy between residents of Seattle’s South Park neighborhood and other neighborhoods nearby? And what would it look like if the answer involved leveraging investments being made by a municipal water utility? Last month, over 40 funders attending the Grantmakers in Health Conference toured the South Park neighborhood to learn more from local leaders about how climate adaptation, community investment, and health outcomes intersect. With support from the Center for Community Investment’s Connect Capital Initiative and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, residents, city officials, foundations, and the municipal water utility are working to reduce flooding, which has been exacerbated by climate change; clean up the toxins that have accumulated in the neighborhood, which is next to Seattle’s only river and a Superfund site; and respond to the lack of affordable housing in the region.
During the tour, participants heard about the varied, connected strategies that leaders across sectors in Seattle are using to address the social determinants of health and make sure that existing residents can continue to live in their community and have better health outcomes. Representatives from Seattle Public Utilities (SPU), including its General Manager, shared how their planned investments in the community are shifting the way other departments and agencies approach community investment—from a siloed, public-sector driven approach, to one that prioritizes residents’ priorities and coordinates investments to maximize impact.
The tour showcased how nontraditional actors like utilities can shift their practices, becoming more community-centered institutions that use their resources to address priorities shaped by community members. By engaging in the community investment system, SPU is coordinating with other entities to address thorny issues like climate adaptation while improving social determinants of health.