2013

How well-designed cities keep us healthy

Dr. Richard Jackson

Ten years ago, the American Journal of Public Health published a special issue, "Built Environment and Health," that launched a new movement exploring how the physical design of our neighborhoods influences our health. 

In a new AJPH articleDr. Richard Jackson, chair of environmental health sciences at UCLA's Fielding School of Public Health, examines what has changed and what lies ahead for the field. 

"The past 10 years have witnessed enormous growth in research, teaching and policy related to health and the built environment," said Jackson, a nationally recognized advocate for smarter community design that takes into account issues of public health. "This has become an established field of academic inquiry, sparking multidisciplinary collaboration and a rise in published studies."

Other trends he has observed from the past decade: 

At least 21 universities now offer courses on health and the built environment, and 14 offer joint degrees in urban planning and public health. At UCLA, students may earn a dual master's degree through a partnership between the Fielding School of Public Health and the Luskin School Public Affairs. 

Demographic shifts have fueled interest in livable cities. Driving this trend are members of Generation Y, who tend to prefer mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods and short commutes; childless couples who often favor urban settings; and aging baby boomers who often cannot drive and need access to services.  

Environmental and social campaigns have spurred advances in architecture and urban planning, including at the government level, that promote healthy design. Community planners' use of health-impact assessments, which incorporate health-impact assessments into built-environment decision-making, have reached an all-time high.

Much more needs to be done, according to Jackson, who is also a faculty member at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine, Luskin School of Public Affairs, and Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

"Los Angeles has the finest climate in the world, yet UCLA faculty, staff and students can't easily bike into campus," Jackson noted. "The most outrageous example of poor planning is CalTrans' and Metro's $1 billion-plus upgrade of the Wilshire Boulevard/405 underpass with no cycling capacity. Angelenos deserve protected bike routes connecting Santa Monica, Culver City and Hollywood to the UCLA campus."

He cited Manhattan's waterfront greenway bike path, one of the most heavily used bikeways in the United States, as a prime example of smart city design. "Ten years ago," he said, "this cycling route would have been unthinkable."

Long Beach's efforts to transform itself into a bike-friendly haven are another success story, he added.

Jackson's distinguished career has included serving as head of the National Center for Environmental Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He has called attention to the high incidence of asthma, cancer, obesity, diabetes and depression among children and other vulnerable populations living in environments that expose them to harmful contaminants and discourage physical activity.

"We need more research to fully understand how to reap benefits for our neurodevelopment and physical, mental and respiratory health from the built environment," said Jackson, who produced a four-part PBS series on designing healthy communities. "We need to identify the populations most affected by substandard housing and intervene — by translating what we've learned into the creation and operation of cities that foster wellness."


The UCLA Fielding School of Public Health is dedicated to enhancing the public's health by conducting innovative research; training future leaders and health professionals; translating research into policy and practice; and serving local, national and international communities. 

Faculty Referenced in this Article

Richard J. Jackson
Richard J. Jackson
Environmental Health Sciences
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Mel Suffet
Irwin Suffet
Environmental Health Sciences
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Dr. Beate Ritz
Beate Ritz
Environmental Health Sciences Epidemiology
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Arthur Cho
Arthur Cho
Environmental Health Sciences
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Angelo J Bellomo
Angelo Bellomo
Environmental Health Sciences
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Curtis Eckhert
Curtis Eckhert
Environmental Health Sciences
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Arabzadah, Hamid
Hamid Arabzadeh
Environmental Health Sciences
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Feng Gao
Feng Gao
Environmental Health Sciences
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Tao Huai
Tao Huai
Environmental Health Sciences
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Dr. Lara Cushing
Lara Cushing
Environmental Health Sciences
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Jared Diamond
Jared Diamond
Environmental Health Sciences
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Dr. Oliver Hankinson
Oliver Hankinson

Dr. Hankinson is a Distinguished Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, and of EHS, and Chair of the Molecular Toxicology IDP

Environmental Health Sciences
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Timothy Malloy
Environmental Health Sciences
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Dr. Wendie Robbins
Wendie Robbins
Environmental Health Sciences
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Dr. Daniel Uslan
Daniel Uslan
Environmental Health Sciences
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Jian Li
Jian Li
Environmental Health Sciences Epidemiology
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Dr. Kevin Njabo
Kevin Njabo
Environmental Health Sciences
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Jesus Araujo
Environmental Health Sciences
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Michael Collins
Michael Collins
Environmental Health Sciences
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Dr. Yifang Zhu
Yifang Zhu
Environmental Health Sciences
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Pablo Cicero-Fernandez
Pablo Cicero-Fernandez
Environmental Health Sciences
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Arthur Winer
Environmental Health Sciences
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Dr. Robert Schiestl
Robert Schiestl
Environmental Health Sciences
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Andre Nel
André Nel
Environmental Health Sciences
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Brian Cole
Brian Cole
Environmental Health Sciences
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Rachael Jones
Rachael Jones
Environmental Health Sciences
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Dr. Jane Valentine
Jane Valentine
Environmental Health Sciences
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Nicole Green
Environmental Health Sciences
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Kirsten Schwarz
Environmental Health Sciences
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Richard Ambrose
Richard Ambrose
Environmental Health Sciences
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Michael Jerrett
Michael Jerrett
Environmental Health Sciences
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Dr. Candace Tsai
Candace Tsai

Associate Professor for Industrial Hygiene and Environmental Health Sciences

Environmental Health Sciences
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Miriam Marlier
Miriam Marlier
Environmental Health Sciences
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Rosenstock
Linda Rosenstock
Environmental Health Sciences Health Policy and Management
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Dr. Shane Que Hee
Shane Que Hee

Industrial Hygiene & Analytical Chemistry

Environmental Health Sciences
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Dr. Pouran D. Faghri
Pouran D. Faghri
Environmental Health Sciences
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Niklas Krause
Environmental Health Sciences Epidemiology
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