June 28, 2010
Renee DeGross Valdes, 404-413-1353
When the walls surrounding Fort McPherson come down in the next few years, so, too, will the community barriers that have long separated the outside world from the Army base.
As part of the base closure, Georgia State University's Andrew Young School of Policy Studies will use a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Network of Public Health Institutes to take a closer look at health in the redevelopment process of Fort McPherson. The base will close in 2011 as part of the Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC).
The areas surrounding Fort McPherson have diverse health and economic challenges, said Samantha P. Williams, a CDC researcher.
If the project is successful, the hope is that Fort McPherson will be used as a health model for other base closures around the U.S.
Holly Avey, senior research associate at the Georgia Health Policy Center and lead GSU researcher on the project, said she's making recommendations on how such things as transportation, environment, land use and housing can impact the health of area residents. For instance, creating urban gardens for fresh fruits and vegetables will provide residents better access to healthier foods.
"Right now, the area is a food desert," Avey said. "There are not many healthy food options."
Among the other recommendations: connecting sidewalks from the surrounding communities to open space and trails to keep the area accessible, safe and to promote contact among the residents and future workers.
Wheelchairs are a common sight. Often, they are riding alongside cars on busy streets that don't have sidewalks.
"The community surrounding the base is closed off and some of the residential housing is adjacent to industrial areas," Avey added. "Simple additions such as sidewalks, bike paths and green space will promote healthy outdoor activities."
She also suggests a community meeting space for education and entertainment purposes. Additionally, her recommendations include looking at where lighting and building structures are placed so that they will promote community interactions.
"The health policy approach is something we can incorporate as part of our overall development," said Jack Sprott, executive director of the McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority. "We've taken a hard look but it was clear to us that the most successful scenario for Fort McPherson was a live, work, play community with an employment anchor tenant."
Fort McPherson, which is flanked by two MARTA stops, sits on 488 acres between Hartsfield International Airport and downtown Atlanta. The base currently has historic housing, a golf course and other landmark buildings. The redevelopment over the next 20 to 30 years will incorporate many current structures. When completed, Fort McPherson will have more than 2,600 residential units and 400,000 square feet of retail, including a town center and historic "main street" area with office, retail and other services.
A 2.4 million-square-foot bioscience campus is also planned so that area universities, including GSU, can collaborate on research projects for such things as vaccines, infectious diseases and neurosciences.
"New residents are more likely to be healthy if they're living in a healthy place," she added. "Surrounding residents can benefit from resources they might not have in their own neighborhood. Healthy residents mean a stronger workforce and better opportunities for economic development for the region."