Retail has opportunity to affect community health: Guest view

Richard Jordan III, president and CEO for Smith Land and Improvement Corp. - (Photo / Submitted photo)

During an early-morning live news interview at the West Shore Plaza, we noticed two people jogging along the Plaza walkway, which is under cover and protected from inclement weather.

Our sidewalks and storefronts are a safe and dry place to get a workout in when it’s raining or snowing.

This inspired me to consider the role of a retail center in community health and, in particular, the West Shore Plaza as an access point — a stepping stone to greater well-being.

Urban Land Institute, an international organization of land use professionals, has prioritized the built environment’s effects on community health as a major platform. According to the institute, “How we design and build communities, workplaces and transportation systems is increasingly being informed by the impact that each has on human health. A growing awareness that our built environment can help or hinder efforts to make healthful choices is at the heart of ULI’s Building Healthy Places Initiative.”

For existing properties like ours, the built environment is a fixed asset but reimagining its use to encourage better health can be a new tool in the effort to reverse alarming statistics on obesity, cancer, heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health has set health promotion and disease prevention goals as part of Healthy People 2020, an initiative to improve the health and well-being of Americans.

As land owners and developers, I believe we have an opportunity to contribute to a healthier community in both social context and health promotion. Since 1961, it has been our mission to live out our tagline of “Commitment to Community. Opportunities for Enterprise.” Building on our advocacy for small and women-owned businesses, we are introducing our first community-wide health event — the Healthy Neighbors Fest — on April 14 to make the highest and best use of our property as a community health resource.

We’re excited to offer the plaza as an educational tool for health and well-being, fitness and fun. When more people shop local, community relationships are strengthened, and thanks to the West Shore Plaza’s walkability, people are outside and on the move. I appreciate the immediacy of in consumer purchasing — we all look for ways to save time — but the health challenges our communities face are formidable.

The last thing we need is more clicks from couches and increased screen time.

We are a recognized third space — a gathering place apart from work and home for eating, shopping and, yes, walking and jogging. Retail centers that give back to the community and are part of our social fabric become “family” and create a personal and emotional connection with the customer.

More than 2,400 years ago, Hippocrates said walking is a man’s best medicine. Today, we’ve learned it’s still one of the best preventives to heart disease. According to the American Heart Association, getting fit is as easy as adding 20 minutes of activity to each day, and Harvard Medical School cited a study by University College London stating that “walking reduced the risk of cardiovascular events by 31 percent and cut the risk of dying by 32 percent.”

Walking while shopping or choosing a far-away parking spot is good for your heart. To give you an idea of how quickly you can add steps to your day, walking from Goodwill in our center to the West Shore Plaza Barber Shop and back is a quarter-mile. For Fitbit and pedometer owners, that’s 500 steps.

Sitting has become the new smoking and screen time is one of the biggest culprits for keeping us in our seats. For our Healthy Neighbors Fest, we have partnered with health advocates and organizations like American Heart Association, Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank, Peyton Walker Foundation, Thrive Fit Co., UPMC Pinnacle, Feel Your Boobies and Girls on the Run to make it easier for our community to take action for a higher quality of life.

In a world of internet exhaust, it’s rewarding to join forces with health and wellness partners and see retail be a driver for healthier communities.

Richard E. Jordan III is president and CEO of Smith Land & Improvement Corp. in Camp Hill.

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