In making decisions about land use, transportation systems, open space, and zoning, city planners affect the design of communities and, by extension, the health of their residents.
This relationship is not new. In fact, the urban planning profession grew from public health concerns, such as poor sanitation and the spread of contagious diseases.
In the 21st century, we face a new set of public health challenges, including obesity and related chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and asthma. Diseases related to obesity have killed over 20,000 Philadelphians over the last 10 years. Low-income residents, African-Americans, and Latinos have been affected most.
Obesity and related diseases have strong connections to the design of our communities and the behaviors they facilitate or discourage, including:
Physical Activity – People who lack access to walkable streets, safe parks, and recreational amenities like trails and rec centers are less likely to achieve recommended levels of physical activity, leaving them at greater risk for overweight, obesity, and a host of related diseases like type II diabetes.
Healthy Eating – The more difficult it is to access healthy foods, whether from a supermarket, farmers’ market, produce vendor, or corner store, the less likely it is that you’ll consume a balanced diet and be able to provide healthy choices for you and your family.
Active Transportation – Public transportation, bicycling, and walking all help build physical activity into daily routines, while reducing emissions that worsen air quality. Decreasing congestion and traffic volumes also reduces the chance of injuries and fatalities resulting from motor vehicle accidents.
By considering these and other public health issues (10 mb pdf) in Philadelphia2035, we are proactively making decisions that improve the health and wellbeing of Philadelphians throughout the planning process. District Plans are an opportunity to target specific health concerns through Health Impact Assessment.
This December 2010 report provides background information on ways that Philadelphia2035 supports healthier communities.