Officials planners and stakeholders need to consider public health when making decisions about land use transportation and other infrastructure according to Dr. Mark Fenton who spoke at the October meeting of the Region Forward Coalition. Fenton a Tufts University professor spoke to “landscaping a social ecology for health” which includes planning communities with walkable retail public sidewalks bike infrastructure and safe facilities for all age groups.
Fenton said 365000 Americans a year die due to sedentary lifestyle choices which account for more deaths than smoking. Though gyms in office buildings and schools provide easy access to exercise the key to overcoming obesity diabetes and heart disease has to be less workout-oriented and more “every day.” He noted that building walking into everyday life saves money on healthcare adds vibrancy to shopping districts and increases both length and quality of life.
Smoking bans safe drinking water regulation seatbelt legislation and widespread recycling didn’t just happen Fenton argued. These measures which have contributed copious health and environmental benefits are the products of policy. The Place Opportunity Report echoes existing local planning policies in jurisdictions across the Washington region and focuses on helping shape more walkable bikable vibrant Activity Centers—the region’s hubs for future residential and employment growth.
Public Health planners from Fairfax County and Prince George’s County also spoke to the Coalition about efforts to better integrate transportation land use and public health decisions. The Prince George’s County Health Department (PGHD) has created an innovative health impact report process to assess the community health benefits of new development. PGHD has produced over 300 of these reports contributing to the walkability and livability of Prince George’s County.
Work from Fairfax County health planners has informed actions by the Board of Supervisors for example the recent passage of a long range bike master plan that will add 1100 miles of bike paths and lanes to connect Activity Centers with active citizens.
Fenton believes this region is succeeding at providing transportation choices and can do even better to increase passive activity. From the region’s inner core to the outer suburbs the opportunities abound.