Blue Zones meeting to focus on urban design projects

Healthy built environment is pillar of new recent health initiative for Grays Harbor

An upcoming Blue Zones meeting will focus on ways to improve the built environment of the cities and towns in Grays Harbor County.

Cultivating an environment that encourages movement — easy walkability, bike paths, and access to parks — is a key part of the Blue Zones health initiative.

Blue Zones is a company that seeks to implement health principles and lifestyles of the world’s longest-living communities to other places around the world. Research found those communities shared nine characteristics related to diet, social life, physical activity and access to the outdoors.

A community meeting on Tuesday, May 16 at the Hoquiam Timberland Library will feature Marcy McInelly, founder of a Portland-based urban design firm and member of the American Institute of Architects. McInelly, the Blue Zones Grays Harbor Built Environment Expert, will deliver a presentation and answer questions from the public.

After launching earlier this year in Grays Harbor County, the project is currently in the “activate” stage, meaning leaders are hosting open houses to gather information from the public, spreading information about Blue Zones, fundraising and eyeing grants to support projects.

Local leadership consists of executive director Chris Frye, a Hoquiam resident who took the position about three months ago, along with a steering committee of health and government officials.

Frye said the goal for Tuesday’s discussion is to find out which potential projects will work best for Grays Harbor.

“Next week our national staff will meet with local experts to learn more about our county, both opportunity and challenges,” Frye said.

The built environment discussion is the second of two Blue Zones community meetings. In April, the conversation focused on food systems and policy. Frye said each of those topics will have its own steering committee to guide specific projects.

Based on information gathered from the two engagement sessions, national Blue Zones staff will take several weeks to prepare a report and, after consultation with local experts and the steering committees, create a plan for action in Grays Harbor County.

Blue Zones Activate is the second overall phase of turning Grays Harbor into a Blue Zones community. The first phase occurred in 2021, when Summit Pacific Medical Center — an advocate for Blue Zones — led the effort to develop an initial community assessment that would eventually lead to the launch of Blue Zones Grays Harbor this year. The 2021 assessment was backed by a $25,000 contribution from the Grays Harbor Board of County Commissioners.

The action plan for Grays Harbor should be ready by November, according to Frye.

Contact reporter Clayton Franke at 406-552-3917 or