Member Spotlight – John Peterson, members since 2015
Briefly describe your work and its relation to public health.
I spent most of my career, 38 years, as the Planning Director for Ankeny, Iowa. After leaving the City in 2015, I started a consulting firm focused on community planning, Peterson Planning Strategies, LLC. I work with communities to develop comprehensive plans, strategic plans and development codes. I also volunteer with the American Planning Association Iowa Chapter, serving as their “Health Liaison”; and AARP Iowa as an Executive Council Member and the Livable Communities Lead.
In my APA role I work on a program called Planning Healthy Iowa Communities which is an effort to build collaborations to create healthy outcomes in the areas of nutrition and built environment. In my work with AARP I try to connect community members to the great resources AARP has to help make communities more livable for all ages. As we all learn more about socio-economic impacts on a persons’ health, I believe it is imperative that planners and public health professionals connect and collaborate. As a planner and engineer I influence and design communities with the hope of making them healthier and more livable for all residents.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?
I have to say that it is very rewarding to have community members and peers share that they have been influenced in a positive way, because they witness my passion for my work and the residents and communities that I serve.
What led you to this career?
I studied engineering in college and graduated from Iowa State University in 1978 with a degree in Engineering Operations. My fiancé was continuing at ISU to become a veterinarian. I was lucky to find a position as a Jr. Civil Engineer with the City of Ankeny. Ankeny was just beginning to grow and I was offered many opportunities to expand my role and responsibilities there over the years; working in planning, building, housing and economic development serving over 30 years as a department director. Several years ago, a friend invited me to an IDPH committee meeting where a group of public health professionals were writing a complete streets policy. That visit and the ensuing years of learning more about public health through serving on additional committees and understanding the cause and effect data have continued to stir my passion for service.
What do you see as the greatest challenges and opportunities for public health in Iowa in the next two years?
I believe that the greatest challenge is raising awareness of the positive influence that public health professionals are making in the long-term health of our citizens. In planning and in public health there are a few visible outcomes. Those are the tip of the iceberg to the many positive things done by planners and public health professionals that create environments and lifestyles that provide people a positive and productive life. The constant work of defending programs and seeking funding to carry out programs is a stressful weight upon the professionals that should be free to practice and improve population health. I believe that the more we can collaborate with a variety of partners to educate and implement positive outcomes the stronger our efforts will become. Healthy influences and healthy outcomes should be built into many systems in many professions… not to be considered an additional step or review that’s necessary; but as a practical application as a natural part of what we do.
What role do you think IPHA could play in meeting those opportunities?
Raise our membership and our peers up. Celebrate them for the heroes that they are and be loud about it and be everywhere with it. Let’s not just sing to our own choir. Show elected and business leadership, private and public, why the work of public health should be highly valued.
Collaborate with everyone… ride every bus, not just the “health” bus. Show everyone the positive impacts of including public health professionals in the conversation, in the planning and in the programs/projects.