Introduction from
A Message to America from America's Communities
© Copyright 2000 Health Research and Educational Trust
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Seven Patterns of a Healthy Community

"If you look at a community in all of its components," says Healthy Community movement pioneer Len Duhl, "it looks like chaos. It is like trying to understand the weather. You can't do it unless you understand the patterns - and even then it is imperfect. But if we really want to do something about improving health, we have to begin to understand the patterns in communities." For ten months people in diverse communities - including rural, urban, multi-racial and professional - used the Healthy Community Dialogue Guide. In each and every one of these dialogues was chaos - beautiful, mysterious chaos. Or so it seems. As reports of the dialogues started to pour in to it became clear that when residents gather to discuss what makes their community healthier there are distinct patterns that emerge. A healthier community is not just some random outcome. It is instead the result of caring, committed individuals joining together in an ambitious joint effort. And from the vantage point of having read about or participated in each of those dialogues it has become clear that when this "joining together" is most successful, there are some common patterns.

Contained on the next fourteen pages are descriptions of seven patterns of a healthy community. While they are based on reports from all the dialogues that used the dialogue guide, they are illustrated with quotes drawn from twelve diverse locations that agreed to have their dialogues taped and transcribed. The transcriptions made it possible to describe the patterns using the authentic voices of communities. The questions asked in the dialogues are reprinted on page 20.

It is important to note that while these seven patterns broadly address health and quality of life issues in communities, they are not the only patterns of a healthy community. Indeed, these should be viewed only as a solid starting point in an ever-deepening search for what truly creates health and vitality in a community. However, based on the results of hundreds of dialogues and an extensive, collaborative, nation- wide effort to interpret them, these patterns do hold special promise for communities.

  • Practices ongoing dialogue
  • Generates leadership everywhere
  • Shapes its future
  • Embraces diversity
  • Knows itself
  • Connects people and resources
  • Creates a sense of community

From Pattern To Practice

In order to make good on that promise, there needs to be a way to transform the patterns of a healthy community into practices of a healthy community, that is, into something that communities can do to improve health and quality of life. To that end, on each pair of pages devoted to a pat- tern are five elements. a description of the pattern; a vignette by a dialogue participant about how they utilize the pattern; a set of questions to help assess the degree to which your community already practices each pattern; resources for further information; and suggestions of actions you can take. These actions can be taken at either the individual or communal level. The seven patterns - and the actions in "Now Make it Happen" - are not intended to be overly distinct from each other. They are clearly interrelated. For example, the pattern of an ongoing dialogue plays an instrumental role in all of the other patterns. Similarly, the pattern of generating leadership is a central component of the others. These seven patterns and actions should be viewed as being complimentary and as having a cumulatively positive effect.

The drawing below illustrates how these patterns and actions impact health and quality of life. By taking action and making choices that support these patterns. a community is taking steps towards actualizing a broad definition of health and quality of life that includes concern for the environment, economy, society and personal well-being. There is some evidence that the patterns, and the actions that support them, will lead to healthier people (physically. mentally, and spiritually) in economically and socially viable communities, and will preserve the riches of our natural environment.

The potential of a healthy community to positively influence its future - in all its dimensions - is virtually without bounds. Realizing this potential will take the collective work and diverse skills of everyone in the community. We believe that the patterns identified and the actions suggested in A Message to America will help move communities significantly towards greater health and quality of life. We acknowledge, however, that more tools, more resources, and more insight will be always needed, especially to take advantage of seeing ever more clearly the patterns of a healthy community.

- Christopher Freeman Adams
- Mary A. Pittman, Dr. P.H.
  Principal Investigators

Graphic by Suzanne Masica 505.474.0741,