Smart Growth and Health for the Future: "Our Course of Action" Delaware County, Ohio

By Roof, Karen; Sutherland, Susan | Journal of Environmental Health, July-August 2008 | Go to article overview

Smart Growth and Health for the Future: "Our Course of Action" Delaware County, Ohio


Roof, Karen, Sutherland, Susan, Journal of Environmental Health


Introduction

In 2004, Delaware County, Ohio, was the fastest growing county in Ohio and the eleventh fastest growing county in the nation. Even with a 71.4% increase in business establishments, less than 40% of Delaware County residents both live and work in the county. The population increased 30% from April 2000 to July 2004, when it reached 142,503. Delaware County, about 25 miles north of Columbus, has experienced challenges from rapid infrastructure development, subdivisions, and population increases. For the past 10 years, Delaware County has built new subdivisions in unincorporated areas being platted at approximately 3,000 new lots per year. In incorporated villages and cities another 1,000 lots are developed each year, adding up to 4,000 new homes, or approximately 10,000 new residents, to the county annually.

Background

In 1998, recognizing a growth trend and attempting to get ahead of the curve, the Delaware (County) General Health District (DGHD), specifically the environmental health division, began a long-term community environmental health assessment process to determine the environmental health concerns of its residents. During the assessment process, numerous environmental health and public health issues surfaced. DGHD collected data through county-wide focus groups, key informant telephone interviews, facilitated discussions, and a survey that identified issues associated with growth, environmental changes, and rapid development. These issues included an increase in car crash and pedestrian injuries and fatalities, air pollution, asthma, reduced physical activity, weight gain, decreased cardiovascular health, water contamination, threats to mental health, and a reduced "sense of community." In the assessment, residents identihed the lack of recreation and open space as a top local problem in environmental health.

Effects of Growth

Another consequence of the increased development was a rise in water levels of streams and rivers. The extensive new construction of roads, paved parking lots, rooftops, and other impermeable surfaces prevented rainwater from completing its normal cycle of filtering through the ground. The increased volumes of water entering streams and rivers also made them more susceptible to periodic flooding, stream bank erosion, and habitat degradation. Since the mid-1980s, urban runoff caused floodplain elevations to rise by as many as three feet at the southern end of the Olentangy River watershed that flows through Delaware County Recognizing this ominous trend, environmental health professionals and planners began to work together on strategies of proper storm water management, onsite wastewater systems, and preserving open space for storm water runoff and treatment.

Growth and development have also forced Delaware County to deal with poor air quality caused by traffic congestion. New development made up of large, single-use zones separated jobs, homes, and other destinations, and required trips to be made by car. Between 1990 and 2000 Delaware County experienced a 77% increase in personal vehicle use in the region. The central Ohio region including Delaware County is currently failing to meet federal standards for ozone pollution and registers unhealthy particle pollution levels.

Data collected and analyzed through the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) showed a measured increase in obesity in the county. Studies have shown a link between sprawling land use patterns, transportation systems, and obesity (Frumkin, Frank, and Jackson, 2004). A 2002 DGHD health survey (BRFSS) revealed that of the 1,067 local adults surveyed, 39% were overweight and 18% were obese. After collecting data from 2,718 students in 12 local schools, DGHD also determined that 29% of school-age students were overweight or at risk of becoming so. DGHD further determined that 11.5% of residents in Delaware County participate in regular physical activity; the Healthy People 2010 goal is 30%. …

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