Urban Sprawl Is a Public Health Problem, New Book Says

Emory University
Friday, 16 July 2004

Urban sprawl is taking a toll on Americans' hearts, lungs, air, drinking water, sense of community, psychological well-being and physical safety.

That's the contention of three researchers whose new book, Urban Sprawl and Public Health: Designing Planning and Building for Healthy Communities, analyzes the many health consequences of urban sprawl, the residential environment that more and more American now call home. Based on this analysis, they make the case for "smart growth" as a public health strategy - communities that are more compact, that place homes, workplaces, stores, and other land uses near each other, and that offer alternatives to the automobile for getting from place to place. Such communities, say the authors, would encourage physical activity, contribute to clean air, improve personal safety, promote social interactions - in general, protect and promote health.

Howard Frumkin, MD, DrPH, chair of Environmental and Occupational Health in Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health, has joined two other of the nation's leading public health and urban planning experts to combine their years of research and experience into the 288 pages of 'Urban Sprawl,' published by Island Press.

"The places we live, work, and play affect our health," Frumkin states simply. "We have choices in the way we design our environment, and those choices matter a great deal to those who care about health. This book is a resource for health care professionals, environmentalists, architects, planners, transportation engineers, developers and students in all of those fields. It can benefit members of zoning boards whose job it is to determine the best way to design the built environment, but it can also be comfortably read and understood by members of the lay public."

Dr. Frumkin describes his ideal community as a high-density, humanely scaled environment. He cites such examples as Charleston, South Carolina; the Georgetown district in Washington, DC; Annapolis, Maryland; the Virginia Highlands community of Atlanta, and many European cities as models of effective mixed-use communities.

Dr. Frumkin regularly addresses community and legislative groups about sprawl's effects on public health. Among other organizations, he's a member of the Clean Air Campaign, the Institute of Medicine's Roundtable on Environmental Health Sciences, and the Board of Physicians for Social Responsibility. But Dr. Frumkin isn't just a rhetorical advocate for change. He practices what he preaches. He lives near his job so he can bike to work, just as his son bikes to school. And when Dr. Frumkin's not biking or walking, he drives an environmentally-friendly hybrid car to work. When he runs errands, he does "trip stacking," combining multiple errands into one outing.

When the book project first began in 2001, the three collaborating authors were based in leading research institutions in Atlanta - Emory University, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Lawrence Frank, who worked as an associate professor for the City and Regional Planning Program at Georgia Tech, brought his background in landscape architecture and transportation planning to the table. He is currently the Bombardier Chair in Sustainable Transportation Systems at the School of Community and Regional Planning at the University of British Columbia. Richard Jackson, the former director of the CDC's National Center for Environmental Health, is now the state public health officer for California, where he promotes statewide initiatives for healthy community design.

In Urban Sprawl and Public Health, the authors examine the direct and indirect impacts of sprawl on human health and well-being, discuss prospects for alternative approaches to design, land use and transportation, and outline the complex challenges of developing policy that promotes and protects public health.

For more information, or to contact Emory University, see their website at: whsc.emory.edu

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