|2005 Abstracts, presentation slides, and handouts|
Health and the Built Environment: The Effects of Where We Live, Work and Play
Health and the Built Environment: The Effects of Where We Live, Work and Play explores the role played by the built environment in causing health problems among inner city residents, with a particular emphasis on the African American community. Notwithstanding, the issues discussed in this essay impact all socioeconomic groups living in distressed central city and suburban neighborhoods and this includes Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, and low-income working class whites. Moreover, the built environment, albeit in different ways, also contributes to the health problems of middle-class central city and suburban residents. Nonetheless, given the staggering health disparities between blacks and whites, and the extent to which the literature on heath and the built environment neglects issues pertaining to inner city communities, the emphasis on African Americans is more than warranted.
Health and the Built Environment is not only concerned with the health effects of where we live, work, and play, but also with the type of urban planning strategies and public policies needed to address the problem. It argues that the active living movement and the new urbanism and smart growth planning strategies are primarily informed by sprawl and conditions found in middle-class central city and suburban neighborhoods. Thus, the policies, urban designs, and new construction ideas emanating from these movements will only minimally impact built environment conditions found in distressed inner city communities.
An emerging trend in the design, urban planning, and medical professions is one that investigates how the built environment contributes to the health problems of Americans. This viewpoint is based on the notion that inadequate diet and sedentary living increases the risk for many chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, colon cancer, type-2 diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity, anxiety and depression. A consensus now exists among health scientists, medical practitioners and other professionals that an active lifestyle reduces the risk for many chronic diseases and/or facilitates the successful management of those illnesses. Within this context, the active living movement arose a few years ago to attack the sedentary culture problem. It stressed the development of a lifestyle that integrates physical activity into daily routines, with the goal of accumulating minimally 30 minutes of activity each day by walking, bicycling, exercising, working in the yard, taking the stairs, or engaging in some other type of physical activity.
The active living movement supported the activities of new urbanism and smart growth. Urban planners advocating this approach to residential development suggest that transportation policy, neighborhood design, and existing land use patterns contribute to physical inactivity and the development of a culture of sedentary living. They call for a new approach to residential development that promotes high density neighborhoods and mixed land-use developments that bring residential, commercial, and retail activities closer together so that traffic is reduced and more cycling and walking is encouraged. Collectively, active living, new urbanism, and smart growth are constructing a new model of residential development that incorporates wellness into the design and construction of neighborhoods.
However, this essay argues that these movements are not only primarily based on conditions found in predominantly white middle-class central city and suburban communities, but also their advocates do not consider the significant differences that exist in dissimilar parts of the built environment. The point is that the barriers to active living found in distressed inner city neighborhoods are significantly different from those found in other parts of the metropolis. Here, built environment issues are more complex and challenging. Consequently, a distinct approach must be used to attack them. For example, in the inner city, barriers to active living and a healthy lifestyle are impeded by crime, violence, fear, inadequate food security, dilapidated housing, poorly maintained sidewalks, streets, sewer and water lines, and blight. These conditions create stressors that are produced by poverty, low-incomes, joblessness, difficult work situations, and the struggle to make ends meet, along with cultural and financial obstacles to health care. These built environment issues have produced a health crisis so severe that in December 2004, the NAACP said "the fight for quality health care is the new civil rights battle."
The obstacles to wellness erected by the inner city built environment cannot be solved unless the emerging model of health care connects its strategy to the quest to radically reconstruct the inner city built environment. Toward this end, design professionals, urban planners, health scientists, medical practitioners, public health experts, and policy makers must develop insight into the differential barriers to wellness found in inner city neighborhoods and then formulate strategies and policies to attack them.
|Last updated May 04, 2012|