Area of Concentration:

Built Environment & Health

The built environment includes urban and rural dwelling space, community facilities, roads, infrastructure and other physical-spatial arrangements needed for living, working and playing (e.g., shelter, mobility, commerce, recreation). The built environment ranges in scale from single buildings and small public spaces to neighborhoods and sprawling mega-regions tied into global flows of material, energy and knowledge resources.  How we design, produce and maintain our built environment is crucial in our quest for sustainable development.

Healthy Communities Atlas: “Relationships between the built environment and health have influenced the development of human settlements since cities first came into existence.”

Read a Q&A with Dick Jackson, host of new PBS series “Designing Healthy Communities,” about the growing, sometimes fatal connection between our built environment and health.

Built Environment
The built environment is a material, spatial and cultural product of human labor that combines physical resources and energy in the form of buildings, roads, parks, towns, cities, infrastructure and other structures necessary for living, working and playing. The rapid growth of humanity’s built environment (and ecological footprint) has made our species a globally transformative force that undermines our prospects for a healthy and sustainable future. In the 21st Century, as more than half the world’s population is now urban, city-regions are becoming the dominant form of the built environment worldwide. City-regions are often conflicting, aggregations of cities, suburbs, and their rural hinterlands that need to be organized as integrated systems of networks and infrastructures. Yet globalization, uneven development and low-density urban sprawl have combined in ways that make traditional planning and policy approaches problematic. We need new approaches to planning and governance that can reconcile and coordinate the activities of regional planners, managers, politicians, industry and community groups in support of sustainability.

Challenges in this area include:

  • The greening of buildings (many buildings are energy gluttons with high carbon footprints; to learn more about the kind of research the NSF funds in this area, click here)
  • The greening of infrastructure (e.g., de-channelizing urban rivers by taking them out of their concrete liners)
  • Affordable housing and quality public space
  • Smart growth, industrial ecology and permaculture designs for sustainability
  • Impervious surfaces (paved streets, drive ways, parking lots) that negatively impact water supply, quality and flows
  • Urban heat island conditions found in treeless city enviornments with a lot of hot rooftops negatively impacting micro climates and energy consumption
  • Understanding the intersection between health, planning and the built environment

Transportation is an important element of the built environment. Transportation expenditures represent a major share of most household, business and government expenditures. Price structures can significantly affect financial burdens. Transportation planning decisions affect the location and type of development that occurs in an area, and therefore accessibility, land values and developer profits.  A significant amount of valuable land is devoted to transportation facilities. This land is generally exempt from rent and taxes, representing an additional but hidden subsidy of transportation activity. Transportation investments are often used to stimulate economic development and support other strategic objectives. The location and nature of these investments have distributional impacts.

The following excepts from Frumkin (2005) highlight the intersection between health, planning and the built environment:

Frumkin, Howard. 2005. “Guest Editorial: Health, Equity, and the Built Environment.” Environ Health Perspect 113.

At least two paradigm shifts have revolutionized the [environmental health] field since Rachel Carson’s day. One occurred when environmental health encountered civil rights, forming the environmental justice movement. We are in the midst of the second, as environmental health reunites with architecture and urban planning. 

The environmental justice movement coalesced around 1982, when a predominantly African? American community in Warren County, North Carolina, challenged a proposed polychlorinated biphenyl landfill as an act of “environmental racism” (Lee 1992). Early research by sociologist Robert Bullard (1983) found that hazardous waste sites were disproportionately located in African?American communities. Subsequent research documented racial disparities in other hazardous exposures such as industrial plants and bus depots (Bryant and Mohai 1992;Bullard 1990) and even in the enforcement of environmental laws (Lavelle and Coyle 1992). The environmental justice movement has had a profound effect on environmentalism and on environmental health. It has focused attention on the needs of disenfranchised populations, especially poor people and people of color. In documenting that environmental hazards may target vulnerable populations, it helped draw attention to children, the elderly, people with disabilities, and other groups. It asserted a central role for community perspectives and placed grass?roots leadership at the heart of environmental health advocacy. 

A second paradigm shift in environmental health has occurred in recent years: a broadening of focus from the chemical environment to the built environment. Many factors have contributed to this shift. Architectural changes following the oil shocks of the 1970s, especially the construction of “tight buildings,” were found to have health consequences. Rapid urbanization around the world and the sprawling expansion of cities in the United States (Frumkin et al. 2004) gave new meaning—and urgency—to the idea of “urban health.” The obesity epidemic in developed nations called attention to land use and transportation as determinants of physical activity (Saelens et al. 2003). The development of geographic information systems (GIS) facilitated spatial analysis of health problems. Because of these and other factors, environmental health is rediscovering its roots in geography and urban planning (Barton and Tsourou 2000;Corburn 2004).

Also see:  Tibbetts, John. (2002, November 1). Building awareness of the built environment. (NIEHS News) The Free Library. (2002). Retrieved December 03, 2010 from
awareness of the built environment. (NIEHS News).?a095527017

,,the poor, who often live in inadequate housing, suffer from worse health than more prosperous people, including greater infant mortality, more birth defects, higher cancer rates, and a higher incidence of asthma, diabetes, andcardiovascular disease. Researchers have gathered increasing evidence that the poor endure a disproportionate share of exposure to lead, air pollutants, and other contaminants in the built environment.


The New Gateway to Green Building

Some articles on the bay area’s efforts to grapple with the CEQA requirements:



Sustainable food planning conference

Posted by Keith Pezzoli on September 02, 2011 at 12:27 AM

USDA Launches Online Food Hub Resource

Posted by Keith Pezzoli on August 26, 2011 at 11:23 PM

Political Equator 3

Posted by Keith Pezzoli on June 11, 2011 at 05:22 PM

San Diego Urban-Rural Roundtable Recommendations

Posted by Keith Pezzoli on June 11, 2011 at 08:32 AM

Engaged Archtecture

Posted by Keith Pezzoli on May 24, 2011 at 10:33 PM

Permaculture concepts and and design principles

Posted by Keith Pezzoli on May 22, 2011 at 02:39 PM

Asset building and community development

Posted by Keith Pezzoli on May 14, 2011 at 03:37 PM

New Urbanists verses Landscape Urbanists

Posted by Keith Pezzoli on February 13, 2011 at 08:49 PM

New European web resource for climate change adaptation

Posted by Keith Pezzoli on November 07, 2010 at 11:37 PM

Cities as net renewable energy generators

Posted by Keith Pezzoli on November 07, 2010 at 03:20 AM

Action Research Books

Posted by Keith Pezzoli on November 05, 2010 at 02:50 PM

Innovative ways to green the economy in North America.

Posted by Keith Pezzoli on October 28, 2010 at 12:01 AM

NSF Awards Grants for Research on Coupled Natural and Human Systems

Posted by Keith Pezzoli on October 24, 2010 at 04:25 PM

NSF Awards Grants on Interactions Among the Environment, Economy and Society

Posted by Keith Pezzoli on October 24, 2010 at 04:19 PM

Special Issue on Sprawl and Smart Growth

Posted by Keith Pezzoli on October 20, 2010 at 08:39 PM

Human-induced environmental changes and the emergence and transmission of infectious diseases

Posted by Keith Pezzoli on October 20, 2010 at 12:45 AM

San Diego County Plan Update

Posted by Keith Pezzoli on October 17, 2010 at 11:58 AM

Public health to be addressed in regional planning

Posted by Keith Pezzoli on October 01, 2010 at 10:17 PM

How transportation policy affects the nation’s health and contributes to health inequalties

Posted by Keith Pezzoli on September 21, 2010 at 05:45 PM

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The Weight of the Nation Project Page

Watch the HBO full length documentaries which are free to view even without an HBO subscription.

Weight of the Nation: HBO Trailer PART 1: Consequences
PART 2: Choices
PART 3: Children in Crisis

PART 4: Challenges

USING EVERY SQUARE INCH—Unbelievable! YouTube Video
See what some of us will do when pressed for space.

LAND VALUE CAPTURE PRESENTATION (by Professor Nico Calavita, see minutes 49:10 to 1:15:30 in the following video)