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Tapping the Power of Place to Keep Us All Healthy

Tapping the Power of Place to Keep Us All Healthy

Jay Walljasper

One number stands above all others as the best indicator of good health. It’s not your blood pressure, cholesterol level, average daily calories or even the age at which your grandparents die. It’s your zip code.

This fact has sent shockwaves across the county. The chief aspiration of American democracy is that everyone deserves an equal opportunity for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Yet medical evidence shows that people living in disadvantaged neighborhoods face greater health and mortality risks.

While placemaking is a tactic to create healthier communities, land use and zoning codes are strategic necessities. Suburban sprawl, and the development codes that allowed it, where unintentional health sentences. Compact walkable communities, with a healthy balance of residences, jobs, and services, do not result from land use regulations that consider sitting in a car for an hour plus to get to work everyday good planning. The healthiest places in the world are villages that afford employment, food access, education, recreation and socialization for their residents, all within walking and biking distance.

Our research indicates that increasing density, public transit, mixed uses, walking and biking infrastructure, and park and recreation facilities results not only in better physical and mental health, but also increases in economic vitality and social cohesiveness of neighborhoods. Having great places to walk and bike to, and socialize in, helps, but transformational changes in public health will only be achieved with whole systems approaches to environmental determinants of health.

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These are all certainly great observations and recommendations, but the main driver of inequities as it relates to health and walkable neighborhoods, is economic inequality resulting from corporate takeover of governance, that results in walkable gentrified high rent neighborhoods and tent encampments on the outskirts.