Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Healthier and more sustainable cities

Time to revisit the topic of The intersection of public health and the environment, how to design cities that are healthier and more sustainable.  I begin with research from the University of Connecticut I originally included in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Shark Week) on Daily Kos: Older Cities May Be Good for Your Health by Colin Poitras on August 12, 2014.
Older cities with compact neighborhoods that encourage walking and biking are generally healthier places to live than many newer cities with wide, multi-lane streets designed for cars, a new study by researchers at the University of Connecticut and University of Colorado-Denver shows.

The researchers looked at street network patterns in 24 medium-sized California cities with populations between 30,000 and 100,000. They then looked for correlations between street patterns and network density and health outcomes such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and asthma.

The health data was gleaned from about 50,000 adults who completed the California Health Interview Survey over multiple years.

What they found was that the more intersections a city had, the better people living there generally felt. An increased intersection density was significantly linked to reduction in obesity at the neighborhood level and in obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease at the city level.
Pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods are good for their residents health.  It's one of the reasons why I enjoy living where I do, because it's probably the most walkable neighborhood I've ever lived in.

Follow over the jump for two more articles from Arizona State University I used in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Bardarbunga eruption).

First, Curbing urban sprawl to make cities more sustainable from August 13, 2014.
Automobile. Spread-out. Sprawl.

These were just a few of the most common words used to describe Phoenix in a study conducted by Arizona State University's Global Classroom. Students in the class interviewed local residents about how they perceive Phoenix. Participants were also asked to draw a map of the metro area from memory. The answers people gave and the maps they drew were analyzed to figure out how residents perceive Phoenix, and how that perception relates to the reality.

Some of the findings? Phoenix is big. But much of it is unmemorable, unconnected, blank space on the maps in peoples' minds. This is the reality known as sprawl.
As I tell my students, sprawl is not only unsustainable, it is standardized and ugly.  This is not good psychologically, but also spiritually, if one is so inclined as to think that's important.

Next, Room to grow: agriculture in urban spaces from August 21, 2014.
In recent years, many people have taken an increased interest in finding out where their food comes from – perhaps that’s because the sources of what we eat aren’t so obvious anymore.

While intensive, industrialized farming has allowed for huge amounts of food to be produced at a fraction of the price, the real cost lies in what may be seen as a literal and figurative distancing between people and their food.

The term “food miles” refers to how far food must travel from where it’s grown, or raised, to where it is consumed. The average is about 1,500 miles, Greg Peterson says, adding that we ship in 4 billion pounds of food each year from China. To put that into perspective, some salmon that’s caught in the Pacific Northwest is shipped nearly 6,000 miles to be processed in China, and then shipped back for sale in the U.S.

“Does that speak to sustainability in your mind?” Peterson asks.
Of course, the answer is no.  When I tell my students that the average meal has traveled 1,500 miles to get to their table, they're amazed.  It's also why I lecture every semester about gardening and urban agriculture.  Also, being aware of what one is eating will probably influence one to eat healthier, too.

All of the above show that designing our cities to be more sustainable might just be one way to heal both ourselves and our relationship to the planet.  That's a message I want to spread to my students.

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