If You Build It, Better Health Will Come
Many scientists, doctors, and public health researchers say there’s a link between a community’s health and the built environment.
Nearly 800 civic leaders attended a recent placemaking conference sponsored by the University of Oklahoma’s Institute for Quality Communities.
UCLA environmental health scientist and pediatrician Richard Jackson calls the built environment “social policy in concrete” and argues that a city’s infrastructure and reliance on public transportation can benefit or harm the health of its residents.
“What you build is a major determinate of how long you’re going to live,” Jackson says. ”Tell me your ZIP Code and I will tell you how long you're going to live.”
WATCH VIDEO OF DR. JACKSON’S APRIL 3, 2013 LECTURE
In 2001, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study (behind a paywall) showing that the number of children admitted to the hospital for asthma dropped dramatically in Atlanta as more people walked or used public transportation during the 1996 Olympic Games. Jackson’s colleagues at UCLA conducted a similar experiment in July 2011 during the Interstate 405 closure known as “Carmageddon.”
“Air quality during Carmageddon, close to the highway, improved 83 percent,” Jackson says. “The whole western side of Los Angeles – air quality got better 75 percent. And that whole region – that enormous basin – got better by 25 percent simply by reducing the driving.”
Jackson also cited statistics showing a staggering drop in physical activity in middle-aged individuals between 1988 and 2010. Growing, spread-out cities mean residents have to rely more on cars to navigate the sprawl, rather than walking or cycling.
THE SLIDESHOW ACCOMPANYING DR. JACKSON’S PRESENTATION