Roseto: The El Dorado of Community Health

Though this week’s reading was entitled, The Roseto Mystery, what made this small immigrant town transplanted from the Appenine foothills to rural Pennsylvania was really no great secret. The drastic health differences in its population discovered by Doctor Stewart Wolf could be very simply explained by the type of community and subsequent environment and lifestyle that flourished in Roseto.

The people of Roseto were actually physically healthier, despite not consuming the healthy diet of their Italian ancestors, living until very old ages among family and friends. This so wonderfully displays the power that our social and physical environments have to truly turn living into enjoying a quality life. These people were able to rely on strong social networks (social capital) as they had over 22 civic organizations in a town of under two thousand (ironically the size of my home town). There were gardens, spiritual societies, festivals, a school, a park, a convent, shops, restaurants, bakeries and eventually factories. This was with great thanks to a “zealous nut,” Father Pasquale de Nisco, but all of these programs helped create a community with a solid identity, constant interaction, and therefore a very livable place where people felt a duty to be their best citizen for each other.

Despite this success, I am troubled by one quote in the reading that links back to development in my own insular small town. The author writes, Roseto was “its own tiny self sufficient world.” Capacity building and independence is wonderful in a community, but this one, especially due to the fact that its population was so homogeneous, is at risk of becoming too closed off from the outside world. The goal in being an outlier is to lead by positive example and start a swell of complimentary movements, not merely achieve success in isolation. Another question is whether this success was possible because the population was made up of one single group, removing the chance for conflict of ideas?

Though these are left unanswered, this is still an extremely important exemplar that demonstrates the importance of community building through participatory action.

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