By Jeannine Rustad, JD
The American Planning Association has recently been focused on the link between the built environment and health. OAPA was a recipient of one of APA’s Planners4Health grants, which focused on the importance of County Public Health Department staff talking to city and county planners and looking for opportunities to collaborate.
As a park planner, I have seen that the link between the built environment and health is clear – whether it’s open space to provide vital places to play in urban areas; fields and facilities to accommodate athletes of all ages; the preservation of natural areas for both wildlife habitat and human contemplation and enjoyment; recreation centers and senior centers that provide classes and opportunities to connect with others in the community; or the provision of active transportation. Park planning is not just about making people happy; it’s about helping them thrive.
Recent events in my own life brought home how thoughts about health need to be taken into account at multiple levels in planning for our communities. For example:
- With respect to transportation planning, how quickly are emergency services able to respond to calls at all times of day? While active and public transportation play an increasingly important role in urban areas, we still need to think of how our roads function. While it may be acceptable and inevitable for commute times to increase, time is of the essence for emergency responders.
- Where are health care facilities located? This is not just an issue in rural communities, where the nearest facility may be miles or hours away. In urban areas, as well, the appropriate facility to treat a certain injury may be too far away due to traffic congestion.
- Do all members of the community have access to healthy food that is affordable and within a short distance of their homes?
- How do different land uses and their location affect clean air and water? Who bears the burden of negative impacts?
These are just a few examples that scratch at the surface. Of course, intertwined in the questions of healthy communities is the unavoidable question of equity and health in the built environment. Living in a middle-class suburb, I, for one, enjoy excellent access to parks, trails, grocery stores (both specialty and affordable), health care, and emergency services. The combination of this access and my resulting healthy life-style saved my life in a recent medical emergency. Needless to say, it made me think of how things could have turned out very differently.
While I don’t expect that planners can solve all issues related to health, equity, and the built environment, as conveners, we are in a unique position to bring together the necessary parties to make sure conversations are held as our plans are developed. Let’s challenge ourselves to think outside our areas of specialty to ensure we’re planning for healthy communities for everyone.
For more information on health and planning, visit:
I’d also like to invite you to visit the OAPA website if you haven’t done so lately. In the News & Media section, we will be hosting by October 6 a new podcast that is being produced locally with a focus on planning issues from an Oregon perspective. Let me know what you think and please stay tuned for upcoming episodes…
Thank you and take time to go out and explore a nearby park or natural area!