Where Urban Design And Public Health Intersect

As the pandemic emphasized, the way we design our cities can have lasting impacts on residents' health and wellness.

1 minute read

March 10, 2022, 7:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Vancouver Al Fresco

COVID-19 highlighted the importance of well-ventilated buildings and safe, accessible open-air public spaces. | Brent Toderian / Planetizen

In Governing, Alan Ehrenhalt highlights the link between urban design and public health, pointing to arguments by public health experts that the way we design cities and buildings has a powerful impact on the health of individuals and populations.

A fair amount of public health by design has to do with re-engineering temperature, especially making the environment cooler in abnormally hot times and places. Reducing the amount of blacktop pavement is one way to do this; too much blacktop creates a heat trap. Protecting tree cover is one more; ample tree cover has been shown to reduce the prevalence of asthma in large cities.

As another example, walkability affects people's ability to get regular exercise by walking to work, school, or local amenities. Meanwhile, polluted air can counteract the positive effects of good sidewalks and crosswalks by contributing to the prevalence of lung and respiratory diseases.

Ehrenhalt provides other examples of design choices that impact public health, including stairways, ventilation, and open-air plazas. But while he supports the concept, Ehrenhalt cautions that "Adding health impact studies, in addition to forcing predictions that are difficult to make in the long run, would add significantly to the red-tape problem." Nevertheless, the public health lessons of the past century can inform design decisions that create healthier cities.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022 in Governing

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