Built Environment Committee
Public Health Conference


A Landmark Meeting of Regional Planning and Public Health Directors

In the summer of 2006, a small delegation of public health directors and health officers from BARHII health departments met with the steering committee of the Bay Area Planning Directors' Association (BAPDA), which represents the 100+ city and county planning directors in the nine-county San Francisco bay area region. Our intent was to begin informal, exploratory discussions about how we might work together, but we were pleasantly surprised by the enthusiastic reception to our overture. The BAPDA steering committee invited BARHII to co-sponsor it's next general membership meeting, which resulted in a forum of 120 public health and planning officials gathered together on December 1, 2006 to discuss the ways in which planning and public health can join together after a century of separation.

The forum acknowledged that planning and public health, which were once closely connected through concerns about communicable diseases related to sanitation, had grown apart over the last century. However, many features of urban design and land use and transportation planning more generally have contributed to the growing epidemic of obesity, asthma, injuries and community violence. With compelling presentations from Dick Jackson, M.D., M.P.H., former Director of the National Center for Environmental Health and California State Public Health Officer, and Paul Zykofsky, AICP, of the Local Government Commission, planners and public health officials were able to see the 21st century reasons why they must rebuild their partnership, and heard examples of how they can begin to reverse the trends that have made the built environment one of the most significant contemporary threats to health.

The forum was a great success, covered in state and local media, but more importantly led to a commitment to a range of follow-up activities that can be carried out together.

View the event's PowerPoint presentations by:
Dick Jackson
Paul Zykofsky

Consistent with the mission of BARHII, a central element of our practice is working with communities where social and environmental conditions contribute to a disproportionate burden of disease.

Like a growing number of our colleagues in public health, we have come to the conclusion that land use and transportation decisions have a huge impact on quality of life and the conditions that shape the health of a community. Sprawl and decaying urban cores, goods movement, transportation hubs and corridors, open space, jobs/housing balance, proximity to essential services, public transportation and many other aspects of the built environment are appropriate concerns for public health. Moreover, when land use and transportation planning decisions are made in a way that reinforces social inequalities, they often contribute to an associated disproportionate burden of preventable illness, injury and death.

To advance our work on public health and the built environment, BARHII has established a Built Environment Committee made up of people from participating health departments, with support from BARHII staff. It is our intent to help individual health departments learn from each other's experiences working with local planning agencies, and to develop regional strategies to help make that work more effective.

Overarching objectives:

  • To define the health issues that have identifiable built environment causes whether through direct or indirect mechanisms
  • To create and build regional consensus around a framework for understanding the underlying built environment causes of chronic and acute health concerns
  • To determine the most strategic points of public health intervention for addressing these health issues
  • To learn about and be able to intervene at the earliest phases of the planning process by developing mutually educational relationships with planning directors and staff
  • To create regional "buzz" with health and planning departments around the health frames for built environment issues
  • To provide a forum for exchange of experiences
  • To increase the capacity of health and planning departments
  • To develop a long term policy strategy for addressing built environment issues that have health implications

Scope of work:

  • Targeted meetings between senior public health officials and planning directors to develop relationships and strategies for incorporating public health considerations into land use decisions;
  • Participation in regional planning processes to elevate the importance of health inequities in their priorities;
  • Development of Health Impact Assessments to be used strategically in the planning process;
  • Coordination and provisions of testimony and expert consultation to key regulatory and planning bodies that influence community environments.

Update on Built Environment Activities


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