By Mary Marvin, Mayor, Village of Bronxville
Nov. 6, 2019: The Village Trustees and I, as of late, have been focusing on our underground infrastructure as much of it is approaching its 100th birthday. Though not having the same element of urgency is the improvement of our streetscape and municipal services, so Bronxville continues to attract generations of new residents – the essence of our sustainability.
I have developed a particular interest in the sustainability, and with it, walkability goals of communities and attend seminars and listen to podcasts.
Truly, what we have here in the Village are now the goals to which other communities aspire – easy access to public transportation near major hubs of employment, proximity to hospitals, food sources, entertainment, good schools, senior services, and culture with all not requiring a car to access. The only other optimal attributes we are missing are a senior citizen living option, and a children care facility for working families.
For the Village's long term health, we as citizens, have a duty to protect and nurture our institutions so they stay vital and relevant.
Certainly nebulous, but perhaps even more important is the nurturing of the personal health, good will, and interaction of our fellow residents. Our Village layout and structure promotes human interaction and connection. Now we need to spend monetary and human capital to maximize it.
According to a JAMA study in 2018, nearly half of American adults surveyed say they sometimes or always feel the effects of loneliness and loneliness not only affects the soul but the body. It has been linked to cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer's disease, diminished immunity, and early mortality.
Many doctors now call loneliness in America epidemic, and according to recent studies, it may actually be contagious, spreading like the common cold. Having a lonely friend increases our own chance of loneliness by 52%. However, loneliness can be cured the way we cure any other disease, with awareness and action.
Some of the cures to loneliness or just a lack of positive human interaction include a mixing of the generations in adhoc and organized activities and outlets to volunteer that have room for all ages. In essence, our eight-year-olds and eighty-year-olds need to know each other. Connections to others is the hidden factor to health.
I would ask all our Village institutions, with Village Hall taking the lead, to examine their inclusiveness, volunteer structure, and opportunities for all to pitch in.
Most often, many of our organizations "need" us when we have the least amount of time, juggling jobs and children and when we finally have the time, the wisdom, skill set, and often the financial stability, our opportunities to contribute seem to diminish. We need to rethink the whole paradigm.
Speaking for the Village, one such area of improvement is to preserve and improve our green spaces and walking opportunities. Study after study demonstrates that living among greenery, and in concert, having open spaces to interact with our neighbors boosts immune functions, lowers blood pressure and cortisol levels and, most importantly, raises one's mood.
Add to this, the ability to walk easily and safely to activities and health effects accelerate. In many communities similar to ours, they now have spaces with chairs, benches encouraging people to stop and sit and talk to each other - clearly an idea worth pursuing, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Other thoughts on the horizon for community partners include:
-Connect tech-savvy teens with our seniors
-Offer discount classes and/or open class attendance and enrollment for the non-high school and college-age
-Create volunteer opportunities for all age groups
In concert to this new look at connections is the added factor of kindness.
Dr. Kelli Harding of Columbia University wrote a book to much acclaim titled, "The Rabbit Effect." It highlighted a 1978 study – a simple experiment studying two groups of rabbits to determine the connection between high cholesterol and heart attacks. Treated to the same high fat diet, one group performed remarkably better.
Quite perplexed, one of the researchers finally admitted to talking and petting the rabbits in her control group. It was then scientifically proven to be that kindness and TLC had actually altered gene expression through microscopic epigenetic changes.
After millions of dollars in research money, the solutions turn out to be quite simple, both to kindness and loneliness – invest in relationships, volunteer, practice kindness, say hi to everyone you encounter, turn another cheek when unkindness comes your way remembering hurt people hurt, improve yourself as a goal and spend time improving your community.
We need to do this as a community, so I welcome innovative ideas. Kindness, like loneliness, has also proven to be contagious.
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