Trending: Healthy Communities​

Can the planning, design, and engineering of communities contribute to a healthier society? Most definitely. In fact, VHB integrates healthy community design principles into our planning practice for cities, corridors, and neighborhoods.​

Healthy Community Design Spotlight

​Top Five Takeaways from the 2017 Healthy Community Design Symposium in Washington, DC

For the third consecutive year, VHB, with the Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies Department of Urban and Regional Planning,  gathered colleag​ues, clients, and industry leaders to discuss the impacts of the built environment on public health, and how we can plan and design communities to minimize the negative effects. 

Returning keynote speaker, Dr. Richard Jackson of the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, gave a comprehensive presentation on the health effects of car-centric land use, from deterring active transportation—and the accompanying increases in obesity and diabetes caused by living a sedentary lifestyle—to the environmental impacts of burning fossil fuels, to traffic deaths, to exacerbated inequality for citizens who can’t afford vehicles.

Here are five key takeaways from the Symposium:

1. Rub some dirt in it. Ariana Sutton-Grier, PhD, an ecologist and Associate Research Professor at the University of Maryland, brought a much-needed topic to this year’s Symposium for the first time. Ariana’s research confirms that lack of exposure to biodiversity increases susceptibility to allergies, inflammation, and other illnesses. In designing communities, we need to maximize opportunities to provide “blue” and “green” natural spaces in urban “gray” areas, looking for daily-exposure opportunities like street trees and planters while preserving larger parks and natural resources that might merit a weekend visit.

2. You can judge a patient by his ZIP code. Anneta Arno, PhD, the Director of the Office of Health Equity in the DC Department of Health, is helping to lead an initiative to make the District of Columbia the healthiest city in America. Through her research and data collection,  Anneta documented disparities in health indicators, including life expectancy, based on ZIP code, with all indicators favoring the wealthier neighborhoods. Economically disadvantaged neighborhoods lack access to critical components of what Anneta called the “Determinants of Health,” categorized as Health Behaviors, Clinical Care, Social and Economic Factors, and Physical Environment .

3. “Staying alive” is more than a song. (It’s one definition of health.) As much as transportation professionals want to encourage users to choose active transportation options, we must be realistic about the safety risks associated with that choice in a car-centric society. Mark Cole, PE, Assistant State Traffic Engineer for the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), spoke about policy and infrastructure implementation improving the safety of bicycle and pedestrian facilities and encouraging more users to choose those facilities by making them feel safer. 

4. Your commute wears on your health as much as your patience. The negative impacts of urban sprawl and the accompanying time spent in cars is at the root of Dr. Jackson’s research. Not only does the time wasted sitting in traffic hurt economic productivity and rack up greenhouse gas emissions, but it has led to an increasingly sedentary lifestyle for Americans that contributes to obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. 

5. Where to start… Transportation Analyst Jason Broehm of the U.S. Department of Transportation, gave a broad overview of Federal resources available to states and localities seeking to incorporate health considerations in their transportation plans. Just as we turn to Federal funding for the implementation of projects, resources available to help prioritize those fund-worthy projects can be just as critical.



If you'd like to learn more about our approach to Healthy Community Design, connect with:

Jim Sellen, MSP
Florida Planning Practice Leader

"Public health is no longer solely the business of health professionals. There is a relationship between our built environment and our health."

Ken Schwartz, A​​ICP, NCICS​
Senior Vice President,

"Safe, affordable housing is essential to a healthy community, as well as designing areas that support physical activity, safe bike lanes, accessible recreation areas, mixed land uses, and access to transit."​​ 



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