Planners and public health specialists must team up

To create healthy places, America needs to groom leaders who combine techniques from planning and public health, a new book says.


Philip Langdon

New Urban Network

Over the past decade, researchers have concluded that better community planning can go a long way toward counteracting Americans’ health problems. As the link between well-being and community design has become clear, public health experts have emerged as important allies of New Urbanism.

Now, health specialists are looking to next steps — innovations that would make public health a bigger factor in urban planning. One way to achieve progress, they say, is by rethinking professional education and training.

“Unfortunately, in current practice, planners and designers, who shape the built environment, and public health professionals, who protect the public’s health, rarely interact,” write University of Virginia professors Nisha D. Botchwey and Matthew J. Trowbridge.

“Most public health professionals have little experience working with zoning boards, city councils, and others who make decisions about the built environment,” Botchwey and Trowbridge point out. There’s a corresponding weakness in the preparation of urban planners. “Few planners,” say Botchwey and Trowbridge, “know how to analyze the health implications of design, land-use, and transportation planning decisions in a comprehensive manner.”

A 2006 American Planning Association survey found that roughly 40 percent of urban planners and local health officials regard a “lack of qualified staff” as a major barrier to