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Taking the Health Impacts of City Planning Seriously

Smart city planning can have a real impact on public health. There's a growing mountain of data that shows that open space and parks are linked with lower rates of depression and higher rates of physical activity, and that good public transportation cuts down on car accidents and makes for cleaner air.

But while that research is all fine and good, how do you actually make sure a city considers public health before greenlighting a project? This piece on health and urban planning from Miller-McCune mentions the idea of the health impact assessment.
One tool that helps government officials identify such influences is the health impact assessment, an evaluation process similar to the environmental impact statement. Such health assessments are a relatively new phenomenon in the U.S., but several dozen have already been conducted, and the CDC is actively promoting their use. While there is a legal basis under environmental protection laws for evaluating health impacts of proposed projects, the officials responsible are often unfamiliar with the HIA concept, or can feel that it deals in types of evidence not traditionally considered valid in making development decisions.
You can see a list of 26 U.S. projects that have had HIAs here. They've been done in states from Florida to Massachussets to California. But while an environmental impact assessment is often routine (or legally required), these health impact assessments are rare and voluntary. Developers will oppose them, of course, as they'll only slow projects down, but they should pay real dividents in terms of public health and the long-term economic wellbeing of cities. UCLA has a bunch of information about them if you want to learn more.

Image: New York separated bike lane, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from spencerthomas's photostream

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