The built environment can have a significant impact on public health. Compact development patterns promote healthy living by encouraging walking, bicycling and other physical activity. This, in turn, can improve the quality of life for residents and can drive down healthcare costs.
On the other hand, the physical design of many communities creates barriers to a healthy lifestyle. When adults are forced to commute long distances by car and children find it difficult to walk or bicycle, obesity, diabetes and other health problems tend to rise. Our dependence on automobiles also harms air quality, which can lead to more cases of asthma, especially in children.
In this section, we discuss ways to build awareness about the impact of development patterns on community health; to increase the capacity of public health officials to support development patterns that promote healthy lifestyles; and to integrate public health considerations into land-use decisions. Some of the policies discussed in this section are also featured in other sections of this primer, because they could be undertaken by any of several state agencies. The policies therefore provide an ideal opportunity for multi-agency collaboration.
- Educate state and local public health officials on the relationship between public health and the built environment
- Build a coalition to foster healthy communities
- Support local health impact assessments
- Promote community walking and bicycling audits
- Establish a "Safe Routes to School" program
- Start a Walk to School Day