Healthy by Design: On the Growth of Health Impact Assessments

Joe Gose examines the growing use of health impact assessments to guide decision-making through a case study from the La Alma/Lincoln Park neighborhood near downtown Denver.
March 6, 2013, 12pm PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Gose looks at the rise in the use of health impact assessments (HIA) in the United States, where 200 have been completed or are in progress (up from 50 four years ago). Communities such as the La Alma/Lincoln Park neighborhood in Denver are utilizing HIAs to direct planning efforts to deliver public health and environmental benefits.

"To that end, the redevelopment of buildings in the 17-acre project, known as Mariposa, will incorporate ecologically advanced construction materials and practices, and a combination of geothermal and solar power will generate up to 60 percent of the development’s energy," notes Gose. "Residents will also find naturally lighted and centrally located staircases enticing them away from the elevators, as well as neighborhood gardens to encourage a better diet."

Although HIAs are being embraced by the public sector, experts such as Jonathan Heller, co-founder of Human Impact Partners, fear that "private developers will see the tool simply as a cost-adding measure or a way for community activists to stall or stop proposed projects."

"But Douglas R. Bigley, the chief executive of Urban Housing Communities, a developer based in Santa Ana, Calif, has embraced the assessments."

“We use the health impact assessments to reach out to the community to figure out what the surroundings really look like,” Mr. Bigley said. “The more issues we’re aware of, the more we can do to sculpt a development to meet the needs of the neighborhood.”

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Published on Tuesday, March 5, 2013 in The New York Times
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