Where you live can affect your health

Published 8:47 am Wednesday, February 28, 2018

A new trend that has been popping up in planning circles lately is the intersection of human health and urban development. Today, more people live in urbanized areas than have ever before in the United States — some 80 percent. With more and more people living and moving to urban areas, this causes many in my field to wonder what we need to be doing to plan for good human health.
Many studies have shown that the simple layout of a city can have profound effects on the health of its population. One study done at the University of Colorado–Denver looked at multiple Californian city’s street layout and compared this to the average health of its citizens. Surprisingly, they found a direct correlation between the two. Cities with high intersection density (a measure of compactness and interconnectivity) had created an urban layout that “significantly reduces the risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.”
Simply making these policy changes has an impact on the psychology of the people by creating a space that they desire to be in and encourage their interaction. And, let’s face it, who wants to walk two long blocks as opposed to four short blocks… saying you walked four blocks sounds much better than two. By requiring developers to connect to existing roads and building developments that provide more intersections and smaller blocks would this create similar outcomes?
Something I alluded to previously is creating a space that people desire to be in and interact with. Your neighborhood may be great for driving through, but does it make you want to go for a jog after work or to go for a family bike ride on a Saturday afternoon? Communities and neighborhoods that are designed with people in mind often have healthier populations and are also more desirable to live in.
People oriented urban design often involves the inclusion of sidewalks along streets, tree lined streets, parks within a 5 minute walking distance, schools within a one mile radius, a corner store within a one mile radius, homes with front porches close to the street and sidewalk… well I could go on, but you get the point. These types of neighborhoods create a pleasant environment that is inviting to residents and encourage citizens to get out and walk, jog, or bike for physical health and meet, talk, and interact with other neighbors for psychological health.
How does Elizabethton rank? Do the urban design and layout of our community invite and encourage interaction? What other urban design elements should we incorporate to help create more opportunities for better public human health? Let’s talk about it!
(Jon Hartman is Director of Planning & Economic Development for the City of Elizabethton. He can be contacted at 542-1503 or by email at: jhartman@cityofelizabethton.org)

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