Sunday, March 04, 2007

City Planning and Public Health

Richard Joseph Jackson recently published Urban Sprawl and Public Health (with Howard Frumkin and Lawrence Frank). The message is simple: our auto-centric suburban environment is killing us. The New Urbanists have been saying this for decades, but Jackson has the numbers. He shows how sprawl is at least partially responsible for a wide range of American diseases: asthma, diabetes, hypertension, depression. The USA spends one dollar in six for health care yet has some of the worst health statistics in the developed world.

Jackson, a pediatrician, spent more than 25 years in public health and was director of the National Center for Environmental Health at the CDC. He was interviewed by Jeff Speck, city planner and director of design at the National Endowment for the Arts:

"It seems that what has been eliminated from our new suburban communities is the useful walk: the one that serves a purpose because it gets us somewhere we need to be. It’s only possible with mixed-use zoning. When you’re getting things done, you don’t even notice that you’re walking. The other thing that I would emphasize alongside fitness is public safety. Bringing public safety into the tent is very important. If you add crime and car crashes together, you’re 20 percent more likely to die in the suburbs.

"But we know the treatment for these problems. We know how to build communities with central commons surrounded by civic buildings, with sidewalks, parks, and transport, with kids and old folks being able to get back and forth to their daily destinations. I think we are at the right moment to reinvent American communities back to what they were at their absolute best.

"[W]e are really talking about a cultural shift, and it is art that is so important when you want to change a culture. We doctors can talk pathology and disease forever, but what really causes change is when art - the narrative, the music, and the things that add value and joy to our lives - is directed in a way that is congruent with what’s healthier for us. That’s where we need to be going."

Our Ailing Communities via Carfree Times

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