University of Michigan and Michigan State University team up to collect data on improving community health

Photograph of seven HPTED data collectors

Written by: Amaliea Hindy, Shiying Mai, and Kevin Michaels

Researchers at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health (U-M) and Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine (MSU) have joined forces with the Healthy Flint Research Coordinating Center’s (HFRCC) Community Core to focus on health and health promotion in Flint, MI. The Prevention Research Center of Michigan’s study, Health Promotion Through Environmental Design (HPTED): A Transformative Approach for Community Engagement and Health Equity is now collecting data. 

HPTED activities modify or activate the physical environment. These activities help to create safe and healthy built environments to improve psychological and behavioral health. We are investigating the level of HPTED needed to make neighborhoods safer, support healthy behaviors, and help neighbors feel more connected. Some examples of HPTED are community gardens, Little Free Food Pantries, murals and other public art, Porch Fests plus other “placemaking” improvements. When developed through a collaborative process, these community improvement projects serve to increase community connectedness by providing places for people to gather, share experiences, and connect with each other (https://www.pps.org/article/what-is-placemaking).

Located in Flint, Michigan, HPTED is the core research project of the CDC-funded Prevention Research Center of Michigan (PRC-MI). The study tracks neighborhood health data and community HPTED activities. We will investigate the level of HPTED activities needed to make neighborhoods safer, support healthy behaviors, and help neighbors feel more connected. “HPTED is connected in a lot of ways to the community-building practice of ‘placemaking’”, said Rick Sadler, Associate Professor at MSU and a co-investigator on the grant. “Our data collectors are helping us quantify what those impacts might be in the built environment”.

Data collection is currently underway in neighborhoods in Flint. We are using three different data collection tools for this project:

  • The NIfETy (Neighborhood Inventory for Environmental Typology) assesses environmental indicators linked with exposure to violence, alcohol, tobacco, and other drug activities, and is collected by MSU data collectors. 
  • The HPTED Neighborhood Life Survey (NLS) assesses residents’ perceptions of their neighborhood. UM staff go door to door asking residents to participate in a survey. There is a $10 incentive for those who participate in the survey. 
  • U-M staff use the Prosocial Inventory to record the presence of amenities on streets (e,g, public benches, murals, community gardens) that could foster neighborhood relationships.

Data collection teams from U-M and MSU are composed of Flint community members, students from MSU and U-M Flint, and from the U-M School of Public Health in Ann Arbor. Data collectors range in age from 24 to 64 and come from a variety of cultures and backgrounds. The data collection teams are excited to help build our knowledge of the effects of HPTED activities on the Flint Community. “What’s great about this project is the engagement with members of the community. We collect surveys from people who love their city and truly care for their neighborhoods. Who better to get input from than the residents themselves!,” stated Sondra, a data collection team member.

Some of the interns on the project explained how data collection was a learning experience for them as well. Xiwen Tan, an international student at the U-M School of Public Health stated,

“It was an excellent experience to have the opportunity to open my point of view and correct my biases of the city. Before entering the city, I thought that people would not want to talk to me because of my accent, but people agreed to do the survey. Some people were willing to show their kindness to us by giving us bottles of water. I learned that I cannot frame a city based on crime rates or other data. First hand experience helped me to learn about the differing situations of residents. Thanks for the door-to-door interviews!”

Other data collectors were amazed by the passion of the Flint community. Our team member Brittany Jones eloquently explained,

“I really enjoy being a data collector on the HPTED project! Being able to connect with community members and hear how important their community is to them is amazing. Before starting this line of work you can feel a bit skeptical because you don’t know who or what you will encounter but after visiting a number of neighborhoods and speaking with residents you hear how passionate they are about their city!”

MSU data collectors always travel in pairs, and may be wearing safety vests. They’ll be walking up and down blocks looking for signs of neighborliness, disorder, and blight. UM data collectors also travel in pairs. They wear green vests and U-M hats. They knock on the doors of residential properties in selected street segments across Flint.

“We are excited about the partnership with MSU and that we both have our data collectors out in the field working on this project. They may be working on the next link to neighborhood health and safety! Please participate in a survey if we knock on your door.”

Susan Franzen, Center Manager of the PRC-MI

HPTED Partners 

Community Foundation of Greater Flint
Crim Fitness Foundation
Flint Neighborhoods United
Genesee County Health Department
Genesee County Land Bank
Hurley Medical Center
Neighborhood Engagement Hub
University Avenue Corridor Coalition 

For more information, please email HPTED-Projects@umich.edu.