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Your Environment. Your Health.

Clark University

Strengthening Vulnerable Communities in Worcester Built Environment

Timothy J. Downs

Project Description:


Low-income people living in depressed neighborhoods of Worcester, MA, are disproportionately exposed to environmental stressors: 


  1. a major toxic chemical pollution burden; 
  2. unhealthy physical features like numerous Brownfields and lack of green space, and 
  3. pervasive social violence and insecurity. 


Compounding their vulnerability is limited adaptive capacity rooted in socio-political and economic stress. Approaches that focus on single problems are ineffective. Our working groups of local community representatives, researchers, city health and environment agencies, the youth center and a local NGO plan an inclusive, systems-based approach to improve adaptive capabilities in Worcester's Piedmont and Main South Neighborhoods. Worcester was once the heartland of the American Industrial Revolution, and its built environment now bears a significant historical and ongoing pollution burden. Similar conditions are found in many medium-sized cities across industrial America. The project has four stages, all neighborhood-based: 


  1. Strategic Assessment - detailed descriptions of the baseline; 
  2. Strategic Planning - identification of priority stressors and opportunities; 
  3. Implementation - making priority interventions and developing capacity; and 
  4. Performance Monitoring - measurement to detect significant changes (post- vs. pre-policy values). 


Products include:


  • neighborhood centered databases, 
  • planning documents, and evaluation reports; 
  • a practitioner's manual; 
  • and research reports of observations and findings. 



Two hypotheses are being tested: 


  1. Primary built environment stressors of a physical, chemical and socio-economic nature conspire together to create vulnerability in Worcester's Main South and Piedmont Neighborhoods; and 
  2. this vulnerability system can be described and improved through a participatory process that fosters experiential learning, builds community ownership, strengthens adaptive capacity of those at risk, and makes environmental and health promotion policies responsive to those most in need.


  • Suzanne Patton
    Family Health Center
  • Peggy Middaugh
    Regional Environmental Council
  • Denise Calderwood
    Worcester Youth Center

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