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UAB, Residents Celebrate Community Improvements in Bush Hills Neighborhood

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Live HealthSmart Alabama is continuing to make good health simple with its completion of the new Bush Hills Connection Complex and Urban Garden. (Photography: Andrea Mabry)

By Jessica Snyder
UAB News

Live HealthSmart Alabama, an initiative of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and facilitated by the UAB Minority Health and Health Equity Research Center, celebrated the completion of community improvements, in partnership with Bush Hills Connections, Inc. and BL Harbert International.

“To create lasting, sustainable change in the community, we have to involve its residents,” said Dr. Mona Fouad. “Community members are the most valuable part of our framework, and our relationship with them begins with listening.”

Live HealthSmart Alabama implements changes to remove barriers to make healthy choices, with a specific focus on reducing those barriers in education, good nutrition, physical activity, and prevention and wellness.

Live HealthSmart Alabama is making good health simple.

“We could not agree more …. To build healthier communities, people living in the community must lead the work,” said Joanice Thompson, president of Bush Hills Connections. “As residents of Bush Hills, we are striving to build a sustainable foundation from within in collaboration with our valued partners. Every community — no matter the economic or social status — has assets that can be identified and mobilized in community work.”

Thompson says Bush Hills residents were fully engaged in the planning through executing their neighborhood improvement plan.

“We are proud of the progress and continue to evaluate and revise our plan as goals are met,” Thompson said. “We truly appreciate the support and long-lasting relationships we have formed and continue to build. There is no power for change greater than Bush Hills’ residents discovering what we care about and leading the way to building a healthy competitive Bush Hills.”

Before work begins in a community, the Live HealthSmart Alabama team works to understand and collaboratively address a community’s barriers and needs. Making good health simple means developing a comprehensive plan that can be implemented in cities throughout the state. To test the model, Live HealthSmart Alabama began in four designated neighborhoods. Bush Hills is the third neighborhood redevelopment initiative and was led by BL Harbert International. This project is the culmination of a yearlong partnership and implementation.

“Whether BL Harbert International is building a school on a remote island in Indonesia, renovating group homes in Africa or volunteering at a summer camp in east Alabama, leaving a place better than we found it is part of our DNA,” said Chuck Bohn, president of BL Harbert International Group. “In 2020, BL Harbert International was introduced to Live HealthSmart Alabama by UAB. Our organization was honored to be partnered with the Bush Hills community to bring upgrades to the area.”

Revitalizing a Neighborhood’s Past

Established in the 1920s, Bush Hills is a historic neighborhood located on the edge of Birmingham’s City Center. Bush Hills is known for its winding boulevard that showcases some of the city’s most regal and well-preserved homes.

In the 1970s, the neighborhood started to face challenges when the population began to decline. Today, just over 4,200 residents call Bush Hills home and Bush Hills is experiencing an influx of a growing diverse population. Bush Hills, like many urban neighborhoods, lacks essential resources, which includes access to healthy foods and quality public gathering spaces.

In 2019, residents came together to develop a Neighborhood Improvement Plan. Residents shared their hopes and dreams to create a flourishing, healthy community.

“Becoming a demonstration zone for the Live HealthSmart Alabama Grand Challenge was a real game-changer,” Thompson said. “Having partners work hand in hand to accomplish goals is a dream come true,” Thompson said.

Now the neighborhood is home to the Bush Hills Connection Complex, which includes a community garden and urban farm.

To facilitate this project, BL Harbert International renovated portions of the former Woodrow Wilson Elementary School — a space in the community that had been closed for over 10 years.

Today, the newly named Bush Hills Connection Complex is a welcoming place for residents, with a community center including a full kitchen, recreation center, auditorium, and courtyard garden patio and farm stand.

“The grand opening of the Bush Hills Connection Complex reflects what can happen when neighbors work together,” said Walladean Streeter, president of Bush Hills Neighborhood Association. “This project has fostered relationships between Live HealthSmart Alabama, city leaders, partners, stakeholders and neighbors. I am excited to continue to build upon those relationships in the future.”

BL Harbert International, the city of Birmingham, Birmingham City Schools, Alabama Power, Goodwyn Mills Cawood, Kirkpatrick Concrete and other generous partners have upgraded the community’s infrastructure by repairing existing sidewalks and building new ones. In addition, they have installed ADA street ramps and new crosswalks, planted trees, enhanced green spaces, installed outdoor furniture, and added street lighting in key locations to increase visibility.

“Once we met with neighborhood leadership, we knew we wanted to continue this partnership; thus the Bush Hills Connection Complex came to life,” Bohn stated. “We look forward to turning the facility over to the residents and watching their vision for the community continue to grow.”

Live HealthSmart Alabama and its partners are not only revitalizing neighborhoods — they are taking steps to achieve health equity by making good health simple — one person, one family and one community at a time.