A Prescription for Healthy Places

The not-so-good news persists: The continuing economic woes, including long-term concerns about housing, infrastructure, and transportation policy. The complications (to put it mildly) of climate change. And the crisis in public health.

It’s no wonder the whole country feels a little under the weather.

Which is why we think it’s clever that famed designer/planner Dhiru Thadani came up with the cool graphic to the left to remind us that there is a prescription for what ails us. Or, at least, that there’s an approach to healthier living that should be included in national strategies for renewal.

The cure for what ails us?

Not coincidentally, that theme “Rx for Healthy Places,” provides the sub-title for CNU18, the annual gathering of the Congress for the New Urbanism, which will be held in Atlanta, May 19-22, 2010. The healthy places angle gets an extra shot of credibility because of the active participation in CNU18 of the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The public health connection to New Urbanist principles has always been implied. It’s important these days, especially during a heated debate over the future of health care, to make it explicit. The most authoritative link-up between public health and land use planning is “Urban Sprawl and Public Health: Designing, Planning, and Building for Healthy Communities” by Howard Frumkin, director of CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health. Dr. Frumkin will be honorary chair of CNU18.

Adding to the work of CDC researchers and epidemiologists who study links between physical health and environmental factors is an increasing body of work on mental health and social conditions, especially with regard to social isolation. Remember “Bowling Alone,” Robert Putnam’s 2001 best seller about “social capital” and community? That book inspired a lot of discussion in New Urbanist circles. And research has continued to connect isolation and ill health. Here’s a recent L.A. Times column on the topic (thanks to Ann Daigle for the link).

And to read more about the book that inspired the column, “Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection” by John T. Cacioppo and William Patrick, go here.

We’ll be reporting more and more about what’s beginning to shape up as an historic gathering in Atlanta next May. So keep coming back.

— Ben Brown

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