Planning Healthy Cities

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Guess who’s coming to Atlanta? Five thousand urban planners who will be attending the American Planning Association’s National Planning Conference on April 26-30, 2014.

What does this have to do with environmental health? Experts from NCEH’s Healthy Community Design Initiative helped plan the conference and will be presenting their expertise on the importance of considering health when planning urban communities.

Healthy City

Have you ever wondered how your city became what it is today, or what it was like 50 or 100 years ago? Many cities in the United States began to grow rapidly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries due to industrial expansion and immigration. But along with these urban centers grew urban problems, like overcrowding, poor housing, congestion, disorder, and disease.

Concern over these unhealthy living conditions brought about a movement for urban reform. Public health issues like sanitation, clean water, and safe waste disposal were some of the first improvements addressed. Soon reformers also recognized the need to provide urban dwellers city parks—natural areas offering fresh air, recreation and relaxation.

Adams Park

The urban reform movement also saw the birth of city planning. In fact, the American Planning Association traces its roots back to 1909 and the first National Conference on City Planning in Washington, D.C. At that conference, the discussion focused on some of the most critical issues we still look at today—congestion, blight, affordable housing, mass transit—and how planning and zoning strategies could address these issues

Although public health and urban planning arose together, they developed separately. This year for the first time, APA’s National Planning Conference includes a major focus on public health. Why? Because while encouraging community development, economic vitality and sound planning, above all city planners have a responsibility to ensure the health and safety of citizens.

Charles Green, health communication specialist in NCEH’s Healthy Community Design Initiative (HCDI), helped select 10 conference sessions that have a Georgia-specific focus and worked with the manager of APA’s Planning & Community Health Research Center to incorporate health into the conference program.

Staff members of HCDI will also be presenting their expertise on the following topics:

  • Turning infrastructure from gray to green: Arthur Wendel, team lead for HCDI, talks about public health perspectives on trails near roadways
  • Using The Charrette* Handbook and the Healthy Community Design Toolkit: Charles Green talks about how communities can include health in the planning process
  • Using HCDI to plan federal campuses and installations: Charles Green
  • Parks without borders : Dee Merriam provides an overview of connections between planners and public health professionals, a review of the historic role of public infrastructure in controlling infectious disease, current health concerns about chronic conditions and diseases, how planning and design of the built environment can help address these concerns, and CDC initiatives and tools related to parks, access and community health
  • The partnership between HCDI and the Nashville area Metropolitan Planning Organization: Jeff Whitfield talks about how the partnership incorporated health metrics into Nashville’s latest planning study on transportation and health and how other MPOs can get started on similar projects
  • Safe walking and walkability for health: Chris Kochtitzky describes cooperative work on such projects as the Let’s Move campaign, the National Prevention Strategy, the National Physical Activity Plan, and the Everybody Walks campaign and focuses on key roles for urban planners within these efforts, such as Safe Routes to School, Complete Streets, and Health Impact Assessment

* A charrette is an intensive planning session where citizens, designers and others collaborate on a vision for development. It provides a forum for ideas and offers the unique advantage of giving immediate feedback to the designers.

For more information: Designing and Building Healthy Places

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Page last reviewed: April 25, 2014
Page last updated: April 25, 2014