September 16, 2011

Design for living: ‘Making Healthy Places discusses benefits of blending civic planning with public health

News and Information

The places where we live, work, play and study affect our health and well-being. A new book suggests that viewing the built environment as a human habitat can promote health, sustainability and more equitable access for people of all abilities.

“Making Healthy Places: Designing and Building for Health, Well-being and Sustainability,” edited by Andrew L. Dannenberg, Howard Frumkin and Richard J. Jackson, was published in August by Island Press. The book expands on Frumkin and Jacksons groundbreaking 2004 work, “Urban Sprawl and Public Health.”

“We tend to think of the places where we pass our days as just background,” said Frumkin, a physician and dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Washington. “But if you were a zookeeper creating habitats in which animals could thrive, you would think very deeply and attentively about whether you have made places that are good for them. Any ecologist or animal biologist knows that. The same is true for people — some habitats are good places and some are not.”

With chapters on healthy homes, workplaces, schools and medical settings as well as sustainability, transportation, food systems, community engagement, safety, emergency planning and more, the book suggests nothing less than a cultural change toward an interdisciplinary approach to planning and public health.

“Making Healthy Places” also discusses:

  • Co-benefits: Planning the built environment not merely to be attractive or profitable, but also in terms of social goals — co-benefits — such as promoting physical activity to reduce obesity, using resources more safely and wisely and providing more options for vulnerable populations through Universal Design. “Our argument is that we actually can optimize multiple goals simultaneously with a thoughtful approach to the built environment,” Frumkin said.
  • Social justice: Reducing social disparities and providing access for all populations, including those with physical limitations, though universal design. “It means paying attention to good design for those at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder,” Frumkin said.
  • Additional research: Applying principles of biomedical research — rigorous data collection and analysis — to research on human habitats to make evidence-based decisions about whats safe, health-promoting and cost-effective.
  • Education: Training a new generation of leaders in public health and planning to work together across disciplines toward creating more healthy, sustainable habitats.

Frumkin was pleased to receive contributions from people who are “the very cream of the crop, across the board” in their fields. “Making Healthy Places” includes chapters by James Sallies, Karen Glanz, Jonathan Samet, Ichiro Kawachi, Reid Ewing, William C. Sullivan and Tim Beatley, among others.

Frumkin added, “The conceptual challenge here is expressed in the first law of ecology: Everything is connected to everything.”

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For more information, contact Frumkin at 206-685-6643, or frumkin@uw.edu; or Dannenberg at 404-272-3978 or adannenberg2@gmail.com.