The conventional meaning of human health is shifting from an emphasis on physical health to a more holistic model that incorporates the psychosocial and emotional well-being of persons as well.
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This paradigm shift has broadened the reaches of health studies to include environmental health and environmental psychology; disciplines that study how the natural and built environment influence the health of populations (Jackson and Kotchitzky, 2001). This paper addresses simple and cost-effective measures to alter the built environment in a city in a way that improves human health.
One of the major health concerns in North America is the prevalence of obesity and cardiovascular diseases both of which have been positively correlated to sedentary living and lack of physical exercise (Pruss-Ustun and Corvalan, 2006).
Adopting measures that encourage physical activity like walking and cycling can lead to a healthier population and this can be achieved by building safe sidewalks and bicycle lanes on roads. Demarcating areas for parks and playing fields within a city and developing recreational areas are likely to increase physical exercise in the population; reducing the prevalence of obesity and cardiovascular diseases.
An area that city administration is directly involved in is transport and changes in transport can alleviate some health problems in a city’s populace. Injury and fatalities caused by motor vehicle collisions and pedestrian accidents is easily reduced by putting in simple road safety measures such as road signs, crosswalks, speed bumps and rumble strips.
The motor vehicle causes a considerable amount of air pollution and congestion which are major factors for respiratory and stress respectively. To lower air pollution and congestion, a city ought to cut its reliance on personal motor vehicle transport and one way of achieving this is by constructing bus lanes to improve public transport. Constructing an efficient transport system can also decrease mental health problems related to commuting such as aggressive behavior, stress and depression.
City planning and zoning highly affect land use in a city. Some social problems that are associated with zoning are social exclusion and low density living due to urban sprawl. Urban sprawl is a form of land use typified by single-use zoning of land and this usually results in city expansion, low density living and low density land use (Fox and Barodness, 2003).
Zoning the city into residential, commercial and industrial areas means that city residents travel more to get to work and access services; increasing commuting and reliance on motor vehicles both of which have been shown to negatively affect human health.
Another adverse effect of zoning is social exclusion which results from minimal interaction among people. To reduce the negative effects of zoning, a city can advocate for mixed use of land which encourages interaction and social inclusion which in turn promote psychological and emotional health.
Low density living and high density living both have negative effects on psychosocial health. High density living has been linked to increased crime, stress, anxiety, attention deficit, substance abuse and aggressive behavior (Fox and Barodness, 2003).
Low density living on the other hand leads to social exclusion (Jackson and Kotchitzky, 2001) which adversely affects emotional and psychological health. For a healthy populace, it is important to factor in population density control when planning land use (Knox, 2003). Encouraging mixed land use and improving housing should cut urban sprawl and increase population density in low population density cities as urban sprawl is usually caused by residents seeking better housing in city outskirts (Adams, 1992).
Simple and cost-effective measures like improving planning and transport can greatly improve the health of a city’s residents. Increasing green spaces in a city not only beautifies the city but also provides recreational space for such activities as sports and jogging; promoting mental and physical health. A city can adopt these rudimentary measures to improve the health of its population.
Adams, R.E. (1992). Is Happiness a Home in the Suburbs? The Influence of Urban Versus Suburban Neighborhoods on Psychological Health. Journal of Community Psychology, 20, 353–372.
Fox, D. M., Jackson, R. & Barondess, J. A. (2003). Health and the Built Environment. Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine,80(4):534-535.
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Jackson, R.J. & Kochtitzky, C. (2001). Creating a Healthy Environment: The Impact of the Built Environment on Public Health. Washington, DC: Sprawl Watch Clearinghouse.
Knox, S. (2003). Planning as a Public Health Issue. Urban Policy and Research, 21(4), 317-319.
Pruss-Ustun, A. P. & Corvalan, C. (2006). Preventing Disease through Healthy Environments: Towards an Estimate of the Environmental Burden of Disease. Geneva: World Health Organization