Warner Brings Public Health To Planning With Key USDA Grant
Mildred Warner, professor of city and regional planning and member of the field of development sociology at Cornell, has secured a highly competitive $500,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to extend her work on multigenerational planning in rural areas.
The project, titled Age-friendly Rural Communities — Linking Economy, Planning, Services and Health, extends a related 2013 survey that was the first of its kind to gather comprehensive data on livability from communities across the U.S. Support from the USDA is pivotal to the expansion of Warner's research that now adds public health to areas of concern for planners and regional scientists.
Warner is working with post-doctoral fellow Xue Zhang (Ph.D. RS '19) and coinvestigator Elaine Wethington, a professor emeritus of human development and sociology in the College of Human Ecology, who is also codirector of the Edward R. Roybal Center and professor of gerontology at the Weill Cornell Medical College. Wethington and Warner's interdisciplinary breadth and individual expertise, combined with Zhang's expertise in complex regional science modeling, are assets to the project that seeks new ways of assessing and addressing livability in rural areas — particularly matters of public health concerning people of all backgrounds and ages.
"Often, our work on livable communities for all ages centers on senior citizens in cities — but this project adds rural families including young people and underrepresented ethnic groups to the equation," says Warner. "Building on our 2013 survey and AARP's 2014 Livability Index, we have formulated an inclusive method for comprehensive data collection that will allow us to create a sophisticated econometric model for livability in order to promote economic development and public health among communities across the rural to urban spectrum."
Earlier this year, Warner presented at the annual American Planners Association conference where she identified overlaps between child– and age–friendly city criteria developed by UNICEF and the World Health Organization. These criteria inform the indicators Warner helped the AARP develop for its livable communities initiative in the U.S., and Warner's current team of researchers is the first to link these AARP livability indicators to public health outcomes for a representative sample of communities across the country. Warner, Zhang, and Wethington will study links between the livability indicators and the data they are collecting on planning, economic development, physical design, service delivery, and public health.
Over the next two years, the USDA grant will support Warner and Zhang's work on the expanded survey as well as the work of two partners — the International City/County Management Association, which is assisting in the 2019 survey that is already underway; and Dreamal Worthen and Gail Randolph, a team at Florida A and M that will conduct case studies on minority rural communities in Florida.
"The recognition that there are several barriers to public health for people who live in rural areas is essential to this work," says Warner. "But identifying the problem is only half the battle. We must also point to links between planning and public health that shift the planning paradigm. If we can do that, then we can reconsider our discipline's ability to shed new light on livability from an inclusive perspective that addresses matters of health and well-being, and supports local engagement in planning age-friendly communities in cities, suburbs, and rural areas."
By Edith Fikes