John G Bell
Reflective Practicum 1
Spring '04 - Hormann

Weekly – How healthy is the city?

How healthy is the city that you live in or close to? Respond to this question by first considering the qualities outlined by the Healthy Cities initiative. Use five criteria (from the Initiative or create your own) and assess how your city meets or does not meet them.

My city is Olympia, WA. One has to decide which community to examine within the context of my city. Thinking about what's going on in Olympia will also involve larger community efforts at regional, state or national levels. Olympia is also smaller communities that each may have efforts and qualities toward being healthy.

Within Olympia there has been a major capital project nearing completion. There is a new bridge that replaced the old. This bridge connects the west side to downtown. Without this bridge, the west side could be very circuitously reached, but would lose vital connection to the downtown core. This is a catalyst to quite a bit of work being done on a new park surrounding Capital Lake. It's a nice park, but the water in that lake is not healthy. There's a new crown on a diseased head in my city.

So many of the local farms are open for the public. The county publishes a map of the farms that will sell directly to the public, which includes quite a few Community Supported Agriculture farms. The CSA is a place where one can volunteer to work or simply buy a share of the harvests. There's also an organic farm at the campus of Evergreen where the public can rent plots to grow their own food. My partner and I are in line to get a plot at the organic farm, and we've volunteered at a CSA that is a scant block away from our duplex.

There's also a very nice farmer's market in downtown. The city built a space where the market could have a home of its own. It's like the upper floor of the Pike Place Market, but, in my opinion, much more friendly and inviting.

There are many environmental projects in Olympia. One is to remove invasive species like English Ivy. Others are to renew green spaces around the city. Work teams from the community collaborate on some of these tasks on a volunteer basis, but there are also state supported improvements.

Olympia is an interesting place of differences. There are some very different demographics that overlap each other spatially. There is a very strong conservative community here as well as a vibrant liberal one. These differentiate into many different levels of value system. There is Evergreen in the woods, and also St. Martin's College. There's the common high school and the wealthy one. At events in this town, there are wildly different groups of people. The eco-extreme comes out for shows like Tkchung at the State Theatre and there's the Washington Center for the Performing Arts. The variety of experiences in this city belies its small size. I only wish that there was more cross-connection between the various groups represented by the variety available.

Another side to this diversity is the wide income differences. There are some relatively wealthy members of the community due to the professions and the political nature of this city as a state capital. There are also some significantly impoverished areas and people. This is still a good range in-between, but this means there are significant economically diverse objectives and viewpoints. There was a large controversy over whether to build a convention center in town, and the divisions were relatively diametric along

The alternative economic elements of Olympia are pretty significant. There are the CSA and Farmer's Market as I mentioned before. There is a co-op with two locations, as well as many free-boxes around town, including one on the campus of Evergreen. The community has seve

Local access to commercial radio and TV in Olympia is actually not very good without cable, which is a bane and boon. Either there's nothing, or too much. There's a local commercial newspaper, The Olympian, that is produced in town. There are a couple of commercial radio stations in this city. The Washington Center for the Performing Arts has upscale music and performance events.

In contrast to commercial media, there are a variety of community communication tools in Olympia. There's KAOS, a listener supported radio station, at Evergreen, and a local group called Media Island is working on starting a legal low-powered radio station. Media Island is a non-profit group that has supported airing Democracy Now! on KAOS, and they are working with many people in the community, including the local pirate radio station. Through the cable system, there are several community-accessible television stations and equipment for people to create their own shows. The community also has a surprising number of local print journals for a city of this size. In addition to the other means of communication, there are a number of smaller venues for concerts and speakers which include Traditions Fair Trade Cafe and The Capital Cinema, home of the Olympia Film Society.

Olympia, for a city it's size, has a large number of colleges. There's The Evergreen State College, South Sound Community College and St. Martin's College. Having a variety of part-time, full-time, day and evening classes at each provides a good foundation for continuing education among the population and a influx of new people to the area at frequent intervals.

There's a skate park where concerts are held in the summer, but at the same time there are kids that hang out at the edges of the Safeway parking lot at night. In many ways, Olympia is straddling between having the small town feel and having the resources and opportunity of a large city.

There are a large number of people in this community that do not have proper health care. I realize that I honestly don't know where the nearest hospital is to me, or even if there is one in this town. When I moved here, I checked for the nearest emergency vet for my cats, but I didn't pay attention to that for myself. My impression is that there really are not many clinics here, but there are a good number of health stores. Everyone's taking their vitamins in hopes they won't need health insurance. Within the community of Evergreen, there is a campus clinic for non-emergency issues that's covered by tuition, but most of the students I spoke with did not have health insurance, including myself. So, catastrophic illness or injury would be equally catastrophic financially for most of that community. I suspect the Olympia community is similarly in danger.

I want to give some examples of a few of the community events that happen in Olympia. I participated in a lecture series on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that included a variety of well-known speakers representing sides of the conflict. In that event were also included compassionate listening circles, which I helped facilitate. Olympia is the home to something called the Procession of the Species, which is a community parade that other communities have also emulated. The Procession includes only non-motorized floats and people from the community wearing costumes of their own making from various species groups of the world. There are frequent marches and protests, especially since the beginning of opposition to the current phase of the decades long war in the Middle East. There are also many groups that hold events and lectures including the Study Circles on Race, in which I've participated, and Interfaith Study Circles, and other community discussion and dialogue groups. Olympia also has annual Spiral Dances put on by the local pagan community, Country Dancing each month, and Evergreen has a yearly event after each graduation called Super Saturday that attracts half a million people to campus on one Saturday each year. There are an untold number of smaller groups and cells that meet in Olympia that include artistic, religious, political and social activists.

Olympia is blessed and cursed. It is both big and small, conservative and progressive, great and in need of more work. I've been a city kid most of my life, with a few gap years spent in a rural environment, and find that Olympia meets many of the middle grounds between the things that I look for in a place to live. It's my ecotone.