Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The Built Environment and Health Conference Comments

The Built Environment and Health conference was a great success, in bringing together urban planners and health officials for a long overdue reunion. The urban planning profession is an outgrowth of the 19th century city reform movement to solve the urban ills experienced by the phenomenal growth of cities like New York , London and Paris . The creation of sanitation systems, zoning and Central Park as part of the early parks movement were considered health remedies for urban inhabitants. Somewhere along the line planning and health parted ways.

Today our urban form and health problems are much more expensive, complicated and critical to solve than they were in the 19th century. We are faced with the obesity epidemic, failing health system and global warming partly due to bad urban form. Unlike the urban ills of the 19th century which were solved by building infrastructure and creating zoning codes, today's problem focus on changing people behavior patterns. Planners and doctors must realign themselves in order to build sustainable cities and address our health problems.

Most urban planners love cities and do not need to be convinced that our zoning has to change in order to build density, good public transit, mixed use, and walkable communities. However it's the LA residents that need the smart growth convincing. These smug privileged single-family homeowners maintain a 1960's vision of LA consisting of single story structures, plenty of free parking and non congested freeways. These people live in R-1 neighborhoods (R-1) and believe this is the bible for all city zoning. They want little to change in their neighborhoods or city and want to maintain three undeliverable things: single story structures, plenty of free parking and reduced auto traffic.

These residents, which attend the community meetings, believe that every community plan and new development must solve these problems. They are a vocal minority, who believe that density, public open space, and transit – things public health and planner's want - are neighborhood liabilities rather than assets. We build rail projects and residents what more parking and wider streets. Residents want affordable housing but not density. Sadly this vocal minority has political power and ear of the politicians who need votes and not healthy communities.

As planners we are seen as incompetent by the R-1 brigade because we can't reduce density or traffic. Our well-intentioned plans and development proposals become comprised to accommodate for parking and road widening. Than, from the politician's point of view, planners are not satisfying their constituents and they simply over ridden our recommendations to become R-1 heroes.

Fortunately there is a new generation of Angelinos; namely immigrants and young people who realize they will never afford a single-family home. They see global warming, density and public transit as a fact of life in 21st century LA. However this group has no political juice.

Urban planners and health officials most work together to solve the urban crises that is creating heath and environmental problems. However given the current planning process and political landscape it will be difficult to make progressive changes in the built environment. And convincing our family and friends to change their behavior patterns and tell them that their 5,000 square foot house or hillside house is excessive, or that driving your child to school is not good for the health of your child and environment.

Like European royalty before them, the R-1 brigade will share the same fate of obsolesce from external forces such has the energy, environment and social changes. The price of gas, health insurance, harm to the environment will lead to lifestyle and political changes.

Change is enviable so how as we as urban planners and health workers create a smooth transition to build healthy communities?

Planners need the power of the white coat to change the behavior patterns of people. What if the health profession set street standards based on noise, pollution and overall safety concerns as well as land use policies?? What if we had a massive marketing campaign that promoted active living? What if we taxed junk food? As planners if we tell people take a hike we lose our jobs. If a doctor tells people take a hike they just might listen.

-James Rojas

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Now!! The best online health products and services are available here at CouponAlbum.com at most discounted prices...!!!