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Thread: Public health and planning - how is this new?

  1. #1
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    Public health and planning - how is this new?

    I get flooded all the time with "stuff" on how to incorporate public health into planning and I keep thinking, isn't this how it all got started?

    the original building code was created, in part, for public health reasons

    Did we veer astray from our genesis and are now coming back to it?

    I guess I'm on overload today but I just got a postcard for the Active Living Network and I thought to myself "oh okay, Uncle, okay?"

    or maybe I just have a bad atittude today, which is possible...

    The years I worked in Massachsuetts, public health was a division within the Planning Department - I was in culture shock to come up here to Maine and find it marginally attached to the Fire Department and that programming was done by a local private non-profit

    what's your experience with this "cutting edge" planning psyche of public health and planning?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    From my experience, it is generally a new thing in Michigan to link good planning with public health, although the concept is gaining steam. Becuase of the recent headlines regarding the obesity problem in the US, I believe some planners are using this as another way to attack "sprawl".

    Yes...the origins of planning and zoning do come from a "public health" beginning. However, I think there is a big difference between public health and individual health. I think it is a legitimate government purpose to restrict uses near residential areas so that the public is not affected by the nuisances. But I also think the government should stay away from telling people how to use their land so that Mr. and Mrs. Smith don't become obese.

    As for the public health department being linked to the planning department...in Michigan, most Public Health Departments are run by counties and are genearlly separate and distinct from any local planning activities. That being said, in my county, there is some interaction on topics such as mobile homes and siting for septic/wells. But after those, there really is no connection between the two.
    "I'm very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany"

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    I think that people are beginning to see that "the public health" is a lot more than simply eliminating nuisances. America needs to get out of there cars and start walking. Planning is about options, and cities have an obligation to provide citizens with options and to create a situation that fosters a healthy lifestyle. Properly designed places do that. I think that it is a new variation on an old theme. people are starting to look to the build environment as a possible cause, and soultion to many of the social problems in our country, just like they did in the 1800's with the public health movement.

    I can't remember which show i was watching (dateline, 20/20, discovery channel), but the topic was the obesity problem in the US. They had a series of graphs that showed the percentage of obese people every decade from 1950 to 2000, the average caloric intake, and the amount of exercise. We all know that the number of obese people is on the rise. The charts showed that the average caloric intake was slightly higher, but the amount of exercise was dramatically lower.

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    Cyburbian natski's avatar
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    From my limited knowledge of the subject, i thought this concept was based on how physically the built environment can contribute to public health.

    By designing the places we live, work,play etc we can become more "healthy" in both the physical and spiritual sense.

    I mean the obvious ideas are making places more walker friendly etc.....

    But im sure there are plenty of others..............

  5. #5
    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    I agree with you for the most part cololi...however, why don't we just go back to being an agrarian society where everyone works the field for a living ,is not obese, and dies before the age of 50 because they have to work so hard?

    My point is that curing obesity should not be a main objective of good planning. Personally, I don't think people are obeses because we live in a much less densely built environment. People are obeses because we eat like ****. It bothers me when people use the obesity line as a way to "sell" a dense, walkable environment. To me, that is just lazy planning.

    That being said, I don't mind planners who use the concept of walking as an amenity. In fact, I use it all the time. I guess the problem I have is it seems that the planning profession is now given the task of helping people to loose weight, which seems wrong to me. But I guess planners are supposed to be experts on everything right (tongue in cheek)!!
    "I'm very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany"

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by btrage
    My point is that curing obesity should not be a main objective of good planning. Personally, I don't think people are obeses because we live in a much less densely built environment. People are obeses because we eat like ****. It bothers me when people use the obesity line as a way to "sell" a dense, walkable environment. To me, that is just lazy planning.
    I agree, pure density is not necessarily a good thing. I think it is part of being "comprehensive" in our analysis.

  7. #7
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    That being said, I don't mind planners who use the concept of walking as an amenity. In fact, I use it all the time. I guess the problem I have is it seems that the planning profession is now given the task of helping people to loose weight, which seems wrong to me. But I guess planners are supposed to be experts on everything right (tongue in cheek)!![/QUOTE]


    Actually, driving is an amenity and privilege and walking is a necessity. Seriously, what does your statement imply about those who have to walk to get places, people too old or young to drive, just dont' plan for em? Planners are not expected to help people lose weight. Planners are expected to accomdate a variety of alternative transportation sources for an area. The obesity issue, just like sprawl are the professions "buzz issues/phrases". I'm grateful for the good/bad public exposure these issues have given city planning. Reality is, every planner knows these issues existed prior to them becoming...public issues and every planner knows these issues are much more complex than what is generally reviewed under the public eye.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian natski's avatar
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    Why cant we plan to help society become healthy!

    It doesnt mean we dont stop alternatives for other forms of transportation etc

    Its like safer by design building types- you do it subliminaly- like incidentally.

    Is it not a planner's role to look at the big picture? to cater for everyone?

  9. #9
    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    QUOTE]Actually, driving is an amenity and privilege and walking is a necessity.QUOTE]

    I didn't say that walking is an amenity. What I said it that I don't like it when planners treat it as such, and then use it as a selling point to cure obesity. Walkable communities are a necessity, but the reasons to have them should be based on community cohesion, reducing vehicle miles traveled, and providing linkages to destinations, not to cure the obesity epidemic.

    But perhaps this is just another one of my cries for more personal responsibility in this country.
    "I'm very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany"

  10. #10
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    okay, i shouldn't post when i have a bad attitude...

  11. #11
    Planning and public health are very similar and share a common beginning. I was taught that when the Supreme Court upheld the right of cities to zone in Euclid v. Ambler, the rationale they cited was need to protect public health.

    I have both a masters in planning and a doctorate in public health. The required courses for the two are very similar, only the examples change.

    As one of the people who have helped study and uncover the link between the built environment and obesity, I hear all the time that obesity is only caused by over-eating. In fact, it is a complex problem that rests on both over-eating and under-activity. It is going to take 20 years before the built environment - obesity link is accepted by the public. Even then, there will always be skeptics.

    I think there are a number of things planners need to do. One is to provide information. In my old days working for government, I went to a lot of community meetings on proposed development. People would stand up, very sincerely, and say they needed lower density to protect their and their children's health. We need planners to point out that the car dependent, low density, type of development impacts health as well.

    I don't think anyone is proposing that all new development be higher density, more walking friendly, etc. Perhaps the planners role is to promote choice, opportunity and a diversity of environments.

  12. #12
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    gotta speak up...

    It's funny you say that - I was talking to my Mom who is 82 about weight issues the other day and she noted a few things to me about her life in the 30's through the 50's:
    1. it was perfectly normal that not everyone had a car so kids2adults walked if they wanted to go anywhere
    2. since not everyone had a car, you either walked to work, or, took the bus, which still required some levels of walking
    3. during the depression and the second world war, there wasn't alot of food, so people ate less becasue there wasn't that much "stuff" in the house to eat

    she noted her own weight gain occurring when we got our second car in 1972 - yes, she was older, but pictures of my mom in 71 and then again in 73, it's amazing

    in my own life, the years i took the train/bus to work when i lived in boston, i was in much better shape because walking was part of the day, not a chosen workout, i just didn't have a car

  13. #13
    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    One must admit a few facts though.

    1. The number of restaurants..especially those serving less healthy food, including both fast food and sit-down...has greatly increased

    2. The amount of processed foods our society eats is very high

    3. Technology has allowed us to become a much less physically active people.

    4. The advertising and availability of junk food is much, much higher

    These 4 points have nothing to do with the planning profession. No matter what we do as planners, these 4 things won't change. People can walk all they want, but if they eat greasy fast food, candy, soda, potato chips, and processed foods all the time...they're still going to be obese. And if they happen to have a high metabolism, then the clogged arteries will get them. It all comes down to what we put in our mouth.
    "I'm very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany"

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    Quote Originally posted by btrage
    I agree with you for the most part cololi...however, why don't we just go back to being an agrarian society where everyone works the field for a living ,is not obese, and dies before the age of 50 because they have to work so hard?

    My point is that curing obesity should not be a main objective of good planning. Personally, I don't think people are obeses because we live in a much less densely built environment. People are obeses because we eat like ****. It bothers me when people use the obesity line as a way to "sell" a dense, walkable environment. To me, that is just lazy planning.
    I couldn't disagree more, especially with that strawman with which you start your post. More importantly, however, is your concept of the lack of a role public health plays in urban planning. I can't imagine a more important goal in planning than designing communities that improve and protect public health. This entails transit, pedestranization, and environmental concerns, all of which factor into making a sustainable and therefore, healthy community.

    Desk jobs and commuting in a car are now what the majority of people in this country do as an occupation. We spend millions on health products, but our lifestyles, determined in part by our physical environment, remains inducive to poor health. Advocating for a healthier comunity through better planning isn't laziness, lazy planning is when someone doesn't take public health into consideration. I agree that a lot of the food we eat today is poor quality, and kids these days seem to be raised more on Twinkies and Coke than decent food. But I still think that public health should factor into planning, much of who we are, what we eat, and how we live is determined by the environment around us.
    Last edited by Dima Del Sol; 29 Nov 2005 at 1:47 PM.

  15. #15
    Quote Originally posted by Dima Del Sol
    We spend millions on health products, but our lifestyles, determined in part by our physical environment, remains inducive to poor health. Advocating for a healthier comunity through better planning isn't laziness, lazy planning is when someone doesn't take public health into consideration.
    Agreed. In the pre-auto era we didn't exactly eat healthy. People didn't eat salads for dinner before McDonalds showed up. They ate meat and potatoes. They didn't go to Bally's Total Fitness either. As cololi mentioned, caloric intake hasn't increased significantly. But daily physical exercise--walking to work and school-- went from the norm to almost extinct.

    This isn't to say, however, that we should get too environmentally deterministic and assume that we can transform a nation of lazyasses into an army of Charles Atlases by simply providing the right built environment. Anybody who's been to a poor inner city neighborhood in the US will note the waistlines, and the long lines queued under bus shelters full of people who refuse to walk 8 blocks. We are largely a culture of convenience. But the least we can do is to provide the means for people to adopt healthy lifestyles if they so choose. Manhattanites walk more miles per day than any other place in the country, and while you could argue that the external factors there are strong (it's full of young, wealthy, health-conscious liberal-types), it's no coincidence that this is the one place in the country where the pedestrian is king. We're entering an era where most Americans cannot, under reasonable circumstances, get anywhere from their homes without a car. That's a huge public health issue exactly because it doesn't allow people to challenge the norms of convenience culture.

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    Quote Originally posted by passdoubt

    This isn't to say, however, that we should get too environmentally deterministic and assume that we can transform a nation of lazyasses into an army of Charles Atlases by simply providing the right built environment. Anybody who's been to a poor inner city neighborhood in the US will note the waistlines, and the long lines queued under bus shelters full of people who refuse to walk 8 blocks.
    That's a good point. I don't want to seem like I believe having "lots of trains and sidewalks" is the cure all solution towards having a healthy and vibrant community.

    But I still think public health is something that should be factored into decisions made on a planning level. And its not just about what people eat or how much they move around. A poorly planned community with poorly designed roads, buildings, utilities, etc, has vast implications on public health. I think we all can agree on that, and because improving public health is such a vital part of this field of expertise, planners should use that to their advantage. For example, if a planner used statistics on how health costs can be mitigated for a city by better planning, this can be much more effective than saying "lets plan a better city so we have community cohesion!" One is substantial and can be backed with economic facts, while the other is based purely on emotional appeal. I'm not saying community cohesion is a bad thing, but I see public health as being a very effective tool for planners, and for good reason.

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    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    Everyone here has valid points. I suppose what bothers me most is when people say that urban sprawl (or whatever value-laden term you use) "causes" obesity. That is simply an ignorant statement.

    But I also agree that the planning community can do their part in educating the public about the built envirnoment. Hell, if I can help little Jimmy down the road loose a few pounds by walking to school, I'm all for it.

    Here's an intereting article written by a Libertarian called "Is Sprawl Making Us Fat?"

    http://www.freeliberal.com/archives/000796.html

    Although the author's main argument is that sprawl does not cause obesity, he does concede that it may be a contributing factor.
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    Quote Originally posted by btrage
    Everyone here has valid points. I suppose what bothers me most is when people say that urban sprawl (or whatever value-laden term you use) "causes" obesity. That is simply an ignorant statement.
    How about "urban sprawl affects public health, obesity included, in a decidely negative way"? Much like education and economic standing affect health (see inner cities), don't you think our infrastructure affects our health as well? Sprawl isn't the reason, but its a reason.

    Although the author's main argument is that sprawl does not cause obesity
    I don't think that article had much of a point...the first half deals with why obesity and sprawl aren't correlative, and then he continues on, like all libertarians, and rails against the federal government. Not like I totally disagree with either of his points, but its kinda like I'm reading two articles. Still interesting, though.

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    Cyburbian abrowne's avatar
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    So far as I know, modern planning was born from the desire to control disease in tenements and largely unregulated development. London comes to mind. Setbacks reflect that fear. Building codes mean people dont get squished by houses. Health.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian natski's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by abrowne
    So far as I know, modern planning was born from the desire to control disease in tenements and largely unregulated development. London comes to mind. Setbacks reflect that fear. Building codes mean people dont get squished by houses. Health.
    I think this occurred in many places across the world.

    So do you think there are case for adapting to the current world health issues through planning?

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