The Emergence of Environmental Health in Land Use Planning

By Fabian, Nelson | Journal of Environmental Health, July-August 2008 | Go to article overview

The Emergence of Environmental Health in Land Use Planning


Fabian, Nelson, Journal of Environmental Health


For years, many in our profession have argued for expansive definitions of environmental health. This large segment of our professional community sees environmental health as encompassing virtually anything in the environment that could impact human health. If you are disposed to thinking of our profession in that way, then this Journal issue is especially for you!

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In this issue, we feature four articles on the fascinating topic of land use planning/design and environmental health. Land use planning isn't exactly the type of topic that one is prone to find in the daily conversations that most NEHA members have. Yet the relationship between the design of a community (and its "built environment") and human health has been drawing more and more attention lately. We now know that depending on how a community is designed, a wide variety of human health patterns are possible.

Knowing this, NEHA was able to obtain funding support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Environmental Health (CDC/NCEH) that enabled us to team up with the International City/County Management Association to examine four distinct examples of how lour very different communities were infusing their land use planning with environmental health considerations. The objective of this effort has been to use these case studies to educate environmental health professionals and local government managers about how health goals can be advanced through land use and design planning and decision making.

As a part of this project, NEHA is publishing in this month's Journal illuminating descriptions of how these four communities found a way to involve environmental health in their land use planning programs, and how the communities have changed as a result of this more coordinated approach. We hope that readers will both learn from these stories and discover insights that will help to accomplish similar kinds of coordination in many more communities throughout the country.

To further our goal of getting the word out on this topic, we will also be posting these four studies online at our Web site (www.neha.org).

To give you just a feel for the reading pleasure that lies ahead, you should know that the four case studies highlight exceptional or creative solutions used by local governments to incorporate environmental health considerations into land use planning and design. The four health departments that we studied are as follows:

* Tri-County Health Department--three suburban counties surrounding Denver;

* Ingham County Health Department--the Lansing, Michigan, area;

* Seattle and King County, Washington; and

* Delaware County Health Department--near Columbus, Ohio.

To whet your reading appetite, let me note just a few things about each story.

Tri-County environmental health staff are now involved in land use planning. They want to bring four principles into this region's land use planning work: protect against environmental hazards, prevent the spread of disease, prevent illness and injury, and encourage healthy behaviors. …

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