Group to study health effects of developments around light rail

ISAIAH received $150,000 to study the impacts of the Central Corridor.

Danielle Nordine

A group of local community organizations will spend the next year and a half examining the health effects of future developments stemming from the Central Corridor light-rail line after receiving a $150,000 grant for their work.
ISAIAH, a Minneapolis faith-based organization, is heading the project by conducting research and collecting data to determine the health effects of the line and future housing and retail developments near it.
The impacts of the light rail on locals’ health aren’t necessarily obvious, ISAIAH Executive Director Doran Schrantz said. Issues like access to transit, jobs and the economic effects of the line influence one’s health.
“There is research that links low income, race or lack of education to people’s health and life expectancy,” she said. “We’re looking into the social determinants of health.”
Possible health issues surrounding the light-rail line include access to healthy foods and grocery stores as well as access to transit to get to jobs or health care facilities, said Jeanne Ayers, director of nursing and preventative services at Boynton Health Service and a member of ISAIAH.
Plans for business developments along the light-rail line aren’t finalized, and the group hopes its recommendations will ensure that the community’s needs are accounted for.
Although ISAIAH will study the whole light-rail line, it will specifically focus on its impact on communities of color, primarily in St. Paul, Schrantz said.
The grant will fund the project for 18 months, Schrantz said, and the group expects to release results and recommendations by January 2011.
Additionally, the group will work with two other organizations and will use a method called a health impact assessment, a process that uses empirical data to make decisions on projects that, on their surface, don’t seem related to health.
ISAIAH will work with TakeAction Minnesota, a community group focused on promoting social, racial and economic justice, Schrantz said. It will work especially closely with TakeAction’s Hmong program, addressing a community that is particularly impacted by the light rail construction in St. Paul.
Much of the data will consist of community surveys, including demographic information such as income and education, transportation habits, employment and health, Hmong program organizer Amee Xiong said.
PolicyLink, a national research group specializing in economic and social equity issues, will work on the technical aspects of the project, including analyzing survey results.
ISAIAH plans to involve community members as much as possible in the research, Ayers said.
“One of the exciting parts of this project is the work that we’re doing to engage the people who live in the area in making these decisions,” she said.
ISAIAH was one of six groups awarded grants earlier this month from the Health Impact Project, a partnership of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Pew Charitable Trusts. The project officially launched last August, was created to promote the study of health aspects of policies or projects, Health Impact Project Director Aaron Wernham  said.
“[The project] is a way to bring public health data into the decision-making process,” he said, “especially those that don’t seem to have too much to do with health on the surface but have important health implications that are easy to miss.”
The ISAIAH project exemplifies the goal of the project, he said.
“It might be hard to see the connection between the decision of the light rail project and health,” he said. “But the more we’ve studied these kinds of projects, the more we see it’s all related.”