Are We Designing the Wrong Solutions to America's Health Problems?

From encouraging physical activity to improving access to healthy food, planners and designers are increasingly tackling America's public health challenges. But what if cars, suburbs, and food deserts aren't to blame for our unhealthy lifestyles?

Planners and architects have the tools to help prevent many of the health challenges confronting Americans. But determining which tools to deploy in which environments is hampered by a poor understanding of direct causation. In fact, a new report from MIT’s Center for Advanced Urbanism (CAU) "knocks down many of the assumptions that have become entrenched in how we think about health and cities: namely, that walkable cities are healthier than auto-oriented suburbs, that cars are a primary cause of our expanding waistlines, that too much fast food and too little fresh fruit are to blame for inner-city obesity," writes Emily Badger.

"Along the way, the report critiques a number of current projects in eight U.S. cities that seem to be counting a little too much on these simple narratives." Transit-oriented development in Los Angeles, a plan to build grocery stores in Chicago's low-income neighborhoods, and Atlanta's BeltLine all come in for criticism. 

"A recurring thread throughout the report is one of humility: We don't know as much as we think we do, and there are certainly no silver-bullet design solutions for systemic public health problems," adds Badger.

Full Story: Much of What We Know About Public Health and Urban Planning Is Wrong

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