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Blue Zones: Parks project meets marquee condition

By Vicky O. Misa | | (405) 214-3962 | Twitter: @Vicky_NewsStar
The Shawnee News-Star

There has been much confusion after a recent ceremony where an announcement was made that Pottawatomie County had achieved Blue Zones certification.

Residents have been asking if Shawnee is officially certified or — as the requirements were achieved in town — why was the distinction designated to the county. Also, how is the area certified without a marquee project, which was understood to be a requirement.

“We have always referred to the project locally as Blue Zones Project - Pottawatomie County in an effort to be inclusive,” Terri Merritt-Worden, vice president of operations - Blue Zones Project, employed by Sharecare, said. “The Blueprint was written with a primary focus on the city of Shawnee.”

The people, places and policy work was conducted in Shawnee, Merritt-Worden said, and the outcomes were achieved in Shawnee.

“The city has met the certification criteria and can proudly share its designation as a certified Blue Zones community,” she said.

The certification process has been in the works for more than three years and the distinction merely wraps up Phase I; there's more to come. Avedis Foundation recently signed a new agreement with Blue Zones to continue the program here for the next seven years.

Certification process

Merritt-Worden said a community must complete a certification review process before becoming designated as a certified Blue Zones community.

“The review process allows the Blue Zones Project team to capture successes and outcomes, and to collect information necessary to develop a customized sustainability plan for the community,” she said. “The review process includes an analysis of the community-wide and Well-Being Index outcomes, and review of a representative sample of approved worksites, schools, grocery stores, faith-based and other organizations, as well as policy projects.”

The local team prepares a summary for each organization to highlight key actions that have been implemented, successes, outcomes and other relevant information, she said.

Meetings are conducted with local community members, representatives from the selected organizations, sector and leadership committee members, city officials and the local team.

“The strengths and opportunities identified during the review process will be built into the Phase II plan in order to chart a course for recertification,” Merritt-Worden explained.

“After objective review and consideration of the overall body of work as related to progress of people, places and policy objectives defined in the Blueprint, we were excited to announce last month that the City of Shawnee and Pottawatomie County community had met the Certification criteria,” she said. “Supporting this decision were many impressive results that the city has achieved.”

Some of the findings from the 2019 Well-Being Index survey were:

• Local residents engaged with Blue Zones Project report a 10 percent higher well-being score than those not engaged (well-being average score of 63.5 for those aware and engaged vs. 57.7 for those aware but not engaged).

• 68.8 percent of those engaged with Blue Zones Project report they are thriving in their life evaluation, vs. 47.7 percent of those not engaged with Blue Zones Project.

• Pottawatomie County has outperformed the state of Oklahoma across four key health risk trends: poor nutrition, lack of exercise, lack of purpose and dissatisfaction with standard of living.

• Pottawatomie County scores higher than other Oklahoma communities with similar demographics – such as Owasso, Broken Arrow, Ardmore, Sand Springs, Tahlequah, McAlester, Ada and Tulsa — in overall well-being and in every well-being element.

Marquee project

Efforts to obtain an actual list of certification requirements have not yielded any documentation, but Merritt-Worden did confirm that a marquee project does, indeed, belong on said list, and there's some wiggle room involved — it doesn't have to be completed before certification.

“In order to be certified as a Blue Zones community, a marquee project must be designed with funding secured,” she said.

Some past marquee project proposals have failed to gain support from residents, like building a significant corridor project along Broadway that would lead travelers from MacArthur into downtown, including a roundabout(s), and/or creating bike lanes.

“The city’s Parks Master Plan meets criteria for a marquee project, and funding of the Parks Master Plan was secured through the half-cent sales tax that was passed by the voters in 2018,” she said.

Shawnee City Manager Chance Allison said the marquee project is intended to be a product of the community’s desires through public engagement to enhance the built environment.

The half-cent sales tax will largely fund updates to modernize the city’s parks.

“The City Commission and staff has spent a tremendous amount of time working with a design firm to bring new life to Woodland and KidSpace Parks,” he said. 

The Parks Master Plan, adopted at the end of 2015 — well before the Blue Zones concept entered the community — is a project that naturally aligns well with Blue Zones Project goals.

Through the process, we allowed Blue Zones to look at the plans and consider the Woodland Park project as a marquee project for their certification, Allison explained.

“The Blue Zone team was thrilled with the city’s design and asked if they could use this project as their marquee as the project was funded, and already in design by city staff and their consultants,” he said. “Due to Avedis’ investment in Blue Zones, we anticipate the possibility for a grant from Avedis to assist with the Woodland Park project to further our community’s sales tax investment in our parks.”

Watch for updates.​​​​​​​