Making Healthy Places

Making Healthy Places is an essential book for all those concerned with how the built environment affects physical, mental and social health and well-being. Andrew Dannenberg, Howard Frumkin and Richard Jackson have compiled a comprehensive text that lays out this new field of study, looks at the data, and identifies some of the tools for further research and assessment.

While city officials, planners, urban designers and transportation planners are slowly moving towards a healthy, “True Urbanism” model of development that IMCL has promoted since 1985 (compact, mixed-use, community- and child-friendly, walkable and bikeable neighborhoods and cities), they have been held back by planning legislation and government funding that continue to promote unhealthy dependence on the automobile and separation of functions. Making Healthy Places will provide powerful levers to overturn unhealthy legislation and introduce healthier planning tools.

The book steps off with some of the most well known health problems of the US: two out of every three American adults twenty years or older are now overweight or obese, increasing their risk of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, etc.; and yet daily incidental exercise, the healthiest way to prevent obesity, has been “effectively engineered … out of our daily lives.”

Similarly, the percentage of the population receiving antidepressants has doubled since the mid-1990s, and the number of children “medicated for inattentiveness and hyperactivity has tripled between 1987 and 1997”; and yet the best medicines – “being with people who care for us” and daily exercise have been made impossible by the modern built environment. This lack of community and of walkability “has not ‘happened' to us; rather we legislated, subsidized, and planned it.”

The first eight chapters outline the impact of the built environment on physical activity, availability of food, vulnerable populations, mental health, social capital, injuries, air and water quality. The second section titled Diagnosing and Healing Our Built Environment, addresses specific aspects of the built environment, transportation and land use, homes, schools, workplaces, health care settings, nature, and resiliency to disasters.

The next section addresses behavioral change, legislation, community participation in planning, and assessment and certification tools as strategies for achieving healthy places. The book ends with a view to the future: interdisciplinary educational programs, questions for future research, and a global perspective.

With 46 contributors, this book is a Who’s Who of eminent researchers such as Reid Ewing, James Sallis, Arthur M. Wendel, and Susan Thompson, and not-yet eminent doctoral students working at the interface of public health and environmental design. This book will quickly become required reading for students in this burgeoning interdisciplinary field, and is a valuable resource for everyone concerned about planning healthy cities and communities.