Erna van Balen: Health 201: Five Things That Planners and Design Professionals need to know about Health and the Built Environment (2011), Tools & Resources panel presentation from Building Healthy Communities: Bringing Health & Wellness to the Community Planning Table conference.
1) If you were to focus an intervention on one hazard in the built environment, which one would it be and why?
I do not see the built environment so much as a hazard (such as chemical hazards), but more as something that influences people’s behaviour. Taking away any hazards in the built environment does not guarantee better health, but may make the healthy choice the easy choice. What to fix first depends on the local situation. Given the rising trends of obesity and related chronic disease, I would try to make sure that the built environment at least makes it possible for people to be physically active: make the streetscape safe and attractive to walk/bike. What is possible depends on the budget, but start by making sure streets have sidewalks. Think about the most vulnerable road users: pedestrians, and among the pedestrians, the elderly (for example benches for them to rest), people in wheelchairs (ramps on sidewalks) and children. Interventions include traffic calming and better signage, better lighting, building or widening sidewalks and building speed humps. Do not just punish drivers, but encourage and reward people who want to be active. Make sure you explain whatever intervention you do and, even better, get stakeholders (including residents) to participate in your process before you do anything.