Why Infill Development May Be Bad for Your Health

A new study has created unexpected tensions between public health advocates and smart-growth-oriented urban planners.

Bernice Yeung looks at recent analysis by Oakland's Pacific Institute and public health advocates that document the friction between California state law mandating smart growth to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the negative health impacts of certain urban environments.

"According to the Pacific Institute analysis, about a quarter of Bay Area land prioritized for smart-growth development under the 2008 law intersects with the air district's high health risk communities."

"Infill development could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by locating more housing near job centers and public transportation, making it easier for people to avoid driving long distances to meet their everyday needs," the report stated. "However, infill development could also expose more people to toxic air pollution if more housing is sited near freeways and other freight-related land uses without accounting for the risks that this poses to human health."

Full Story: Study: Bay Area's urban planning must address public health



Biased Headline

It looks like a car salesman wrote the headline... blah blah MAY blah blah. Of course if you live next to a port or freeway, there probably are air quality issues. Tell me, how many subdivisions have you seen in a far away suburb, right next to the freeway?

Why are air pollution considerations unique to an urban or semi-urban environment? Answer: they're not.

Jonathan Nettler's picture

Key Conundrum

The key conundrum for planners, as addressed in the article, is how do you balance conflicting designations for sizable parcels of land (the article points to a quarter of Bay Area land prioritized for smart growth) that at the micro level have been identified as hazardous to an individual's health, yet at the macro level have been identified for their potential beneficial role in meeting the state's mandated reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

The concerns about the conflicting public health impacts of land use decisions involving the confluence of micro and macro factors identified in the article are certainly not unique to the Bay Area, and should be of interest to practitioners across the country. Such impacts deserve to be explored more fully.

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