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 !  The Built Environment

Planning and Public Health developed from common roots. In the 19th Century concerns about the health impacts of infectious diseases, immigration, urbanization and other problems prompted reformers to work towards the betterment of cities and health. Many of their efforts can be seen today. The great public parks and water works are one of their legacies. Later, zoning and building codes, which are responsible for the form of US cities and suburbs, were developed.

In one sense, these efforts have succeeded too well. Cholera and Tuberculosis have receeded as major US health problems. But new threats, such as obesity and physical inactivity, now seriously affect public health. There is now a need to better understand how the built environment impacts the health status of millions (and globally billions) of people.


Some of the data generated by these projects can be found in the RESEACH link. Current projects include:


How does the expense, time and stress of commuting affect health? As Americans increasingly move to urban peripheries and congestion increases, commutes are becoming longer. Many people feel that the trade off of lower housing prices for a longer commute are a worthwhile bargain. But is it? It is becming increasing clear that there is a health cost to longer commutes. Less physical activity, higher stress and worse eating patterns often result. In 2006, we conducted a preliminary study of commute stress. Future steps include a more detailed commuterr study (involving validation of a commuter stress survey and exploration of commute stress- health status outcomes) and studies of people commuting by particular modes of travel.


Urban sprawl, the pattern of urbanization characterized by low density, decentralized, and often automobile dependent development, is increasingly a world wide issue. Sprawl has been implicated in increased obesity and decreased physical activity. We published a measure of sprawl in the Journal of the Urban Affairs Association in 2003 and a study of Urban Sprawl in 2004 in the American Journal of Public Health. Current efforts involve exploring the causal pathway between sprawl and obesity as well as identifying varying patterns of sprawl across the US.

Built Environment

There are built environment health effects on the neighborhood and local level.. Where one lives can have profound impacts on one's health. Current projects include a case study of the Boston Schoolyard Initiative, a public private partnership to renovate degraged urban open spaces; the effects of improved schoolyards on standardized test performance; and the impact of supermarkets on obesity risk.


EH818 The Built Environment: Design Solutions for Health

Recent concerns about health and the environment have prompted a reconnection of public health with urban planning.  This course examines how the built environment, including blocks, neighborhoods and metropolitan areas, impacts health including obesity, physical activity and mental health.  Current and past policies and programs such as zoning, urban renewal, highway construction, new urbanism and smart growth are critiqued using the frameworks of health, architecture and planning.  The goal is to understand how patterns of development influence health and how urban form can be modified to promote healthier living.

EH818 Syllabus


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