In a finding that confirms what many land-use planners and smart growth advocates have long suspected, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) have released a new report that for the first time links land-use decisions with public health.
The report, entitled “Creating A Healthy Environment: The Impact of the Built Environment on Public Health,” explores how the many decisions we make about new highways, subdivisions, sidewalks and shopping centers have a direct and often adverse impact on human health.
“Land use decisions are just as much public health decisions as are decisions about food preparation,” says Dr. Richard Jackson, director of the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health, who wrote the report. “What, for example, are the implications for children with asthma of building yet another expressway? We must also question whether a fatality involving a pedestrian isn’t actually the result of poor urban planning, thoughtless land use or inferior urban design, rather than ‘simply’ a motor vehicle crash.”
In the report, Jackson argues that there is a direct correlation between the chronic diseases that plague this country, such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, asthma and depression, and land-use patterns, housing characteristics, transportation choices and architectural and urban design. For example, when the city of Atlanta made a conscious effort to reduce traffic for the 1996 Olympic Games, curbing automobile use by 22.5 percent, asthma admission to Atlanta emergency rooms and hospitals also dropped by 41.6 percent.
The report, published by Sprawl Watch, a nationwide information clearinghouse on sprawl-related issues, recommends that new coalitions be formed between doctors, nurses and public health professionals and land use professionals such as architects, builders, urban planners and transportation officials to get more people “at the table” when land-use decisions are made.
Ironically, the U.S. General Accounting Office just issued a report in October on creating federal incentives to promote land use decisions that protect air and water quality. That report found that most states and localities do not consider the environmental impacts of land use decisions because they are not required to, they believe they have little ability to influence those decisions or they lack the resources, data or technical know-how to do so.