Webinar recorded March 25, 2015

Summary by Meghan McMullen | Georgia Institute of Technology, MCRP ’16

A product of the Building Bridges Project, a partnership of the American Public Health Association, American Planning Association, and Georgia Tech’s Built Environment and Public Health Clearinghouse

Built Environment and Public Health Clearinghouse-solid-2lines-539+124


This webinar takes a deeper, practitioner-focused look at newly developed tools that can guide planners, architects, and public officials in generating innovative solutions to create healthy communities.  It features strategies for using three cutting-edge tools for creating healthy places: Urban Land Institute’s Building Healthy Places Toolkit, Georgia Tech’s Neighborhood Quality of Life and Health Project, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s EnviroAtlas.  These tools offer tangible applications for practitioners looking to incorporate human and environmental health into their development decisions, ranging from the site to the regional scale. Read a synopsis of the webinar content below and visit the Built Environment and Public Health Clearinghouse to view a recording of the webinar.

Moderated by:

Matthew Trowbridge, MD, MPH
Associate Professor, University of Virginia School of Medicine
Senior Research Fellow, U.S. Green Building Council

Urban Land Institute’s Building Healthy Places Toolkit

Presented by Sara Hammerschmidt, PhD | Senior Associate, Urban Land Institute

hammerschmidtLeading the way toward healthy building practices at the site level, the Urban Land Institute, in partnership with the Center for Active Design and Colorado Health Foundation, created the Building Healthy Places Toolkit as a resource for developers, designers, investors, and property managers to build places that promote the health of tenants, residents, and communities. The toolkit provides 21 specific, practical, evidence-based strategies for how design elements, programming strategies, materials, and other approaches can be leveraged to improve health and develop quality products.  These recommendations are broken into three categories of impact: 1) physical activity, 2) healthy food and drinking water, and 3) healthy environment and social well-being.  The complete list of recommendations is as follows:

  1. Incorporate a mix of land uses
  2. Design well-connected street networks at the human scale
  3. Provide sidewalks and enticing, pedestrian-oriented streetscapes
  4. Provide infrastructure to support biking
  5. Design visible, enticing stairs to encourage everyday use
  6. Install stair prompts and signage
  7. Provide high-quality spaces for multigenerational play and recreation
  8. Build play spaces for children
  9. Accommodate a grocery store
  10. Host a farmers market
  11. Promote healthy food retail
  12. Support on-site gardening and farming
  13. Enhance access to drinking water
  14. Ban smoking
  15. Use materials and products that support healthy indoor air quality
  16. Facilitate proper ventilation and airflow
  17. Maximize indoor lighting quality
  18. Minimize noise pollution
  19. Increase access to nature
  20. Facilitate social engagement
  21. Adopt pet-friendly policies

Insights from developers utilizing the recommended practices, photographs, links to additional resources, and schematic illustrations are interwoven throughout the toolkit, translating the recommendations into development realities.  In addition these recommended best practices, the toolkit gives an overview of related certification programs, marketing strategies to promote wellness, and how to build partnerships with foundations, universities, and health-focused nonprofits to take healthy building to the next level.

ECO Modern Flats in Fayetteville, Arkansas illustrates the potential of healthy building practices to enhance the value of a project for both the residents and the developer.  Inspired by the connection between interior environmental quality and asthma, developer Jeremy Hudson incorporated many of the toolkit recommendations in the rehabilitation of a 1960s apartment building.  The project used low- and no-VOC materials, a ductless heating and cooling system, and concrete floors to reduce the amount of pollutants and allergens to which residents are exposed. It also features a saltwater pool, visible staircases, a community garden, a roof deck, and a courtyard, elements that promote physical activity, healthy eating, and social wellbeing.  Hudson noted a significant challenge in working with contractors who did not have experience with or knowledge of healthier, nontraditional building materials, underscoring that we cannot achieve truly healthy places until there is a deep understanding of best practices at every level from the planner to the contractor.

To learn about all 21 recommendations, view diagrams, and read insight from industry leaders applying these practices, visit http://bhptoolkit.uli.org/

Georgia Tech’s Neighborhood Quality of Life and Health Project

Presented by Nisha Botchwey, PhD | Associate Professor, Georgia Tech School of City and Regional Planning

nishaResearchers at Georgia Tech sought to evaluate the link between built environment indicators, resident perceptions of quality of life, and resident health outcomes, but found the data necessary for their analysis was not readily available at the spatial scale where health and well-being occur: the neighborhood level.  Typical sources for this type of data, such as the County Health Rankings or Neighborhood Nexus, do not provide information at the sub-county level.  Responding to this gap, the team developed Atlanta’s Neighborhood Quality of Life and Health Project (NQoLH) as a portal for integrated health and quality of life information for each of the city’s 25 Neighborhood Planning Units (NPUs).

The NQoLH website is an interactive data resource designed for use by local governments, nonprofit organizations, and neighborhood residents.  Users can search for a specific NPU by name, click a location on a map, or enter a street address, intersection, zip code, major entity or neighborhood name and will be directed to the data set for the associated NPU.  For each NPU, a general description along with a selection of demographic data, quality of life indicators, and health indicators are available.  In addition to raw data for each neighborhood, the dashboard ranks neighborhoods categorically and provides composite indices for quality of life and health relative to the rest of the city.  The transportation ranking, for instance, uses a combination of mean travel time to work and transit access to score each neighborhood, then ranks all 25 neighborhoods according to their level of accessibility.  The indices provide composite scores for each neighborhood.  The quality of life index includes indicators related to the neighborhood amenities, economy, housing, public safety and transportation; the health index includes indicators related to resident nutrition, physical activity, mortality, and morbidity. These data are displayed in tabular form, as gradient maps, and on graphs displaying the relationship between categorical rankings and neighborhood socioeconomic status, allowing for simplified analysis of multiple indicators.  They are available for direct download as GIS files. The site also provides a set of external resources for users looking to take action to improve their neighborhoods.  This streamlined, integrated approach to neighborhood data can be applied to issues at a variety of scales, including a recent, citywide question of how and where Atlanta should equitably prioritize investments from a newly passed infrastructure bond.

The next step for Atlanta’s Neighborhood Quality of Life and Health Project will be an expansion to provide neighborhood-level data for the remaining 13 cities in Fulton County, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Partnership to Improve Community Health grant.  This example of accessible, visual, joint-data systems at the sub-county level can be replicated in other municipalities as a resource for decision-making, presentations to the public, and community engagement based on objective measures.

Visit Atlanta’s Neighborhood Quality of Life and Health Project at http://www.cgis.gatech.edu/NQOLH/  

The Environmental Protection Agency’s EnviroAtlas

Presented by Laura Jackson, PhD | Biologist, Office of Research and Development, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency | Principal Investigator, Sustainable and Healthy Communities Research Program | Deputy Project Lead, EnviroAtlas

jacksonThe natural environment can buffer us from anthropogenic and natural hazards, provide food and materials, and facilitate healthy lifestyles and behaviors through proximity to natural areas. Recognizing the importance of the natural elements of the environment as health exposures, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed EnviroAtlas as an online tool for viewing, analyzing, and downloading geospatial data related to ecosystem services.  Data is available on multiple scales, including the watershed level for all 48 contiguous states and community-level data for 12 urban areas, which were selected to represent a diverse sample of urban typologies and environmental contexts.  The EPA expects to have data for 20 urban areas by the end of 2015 and to ultimately provide this service for 50 cities.

The platform provides a wealth of information organized into two primary functions: the Interactive Map and the Eco-Health Relationship Browser.  There are more than 300 map layers available within the EnviroAtlas Interactive Map, including reference data, such as demographic information, that can be overlaid with ecosystem data.  Nationally, more than 160 layers of environmental data are available within the categories of clean air, clean and plentiful water, natural hazard mitigation, climate stabilization, recreation, culture, aesthetics, food, fuel, materials, and biodiversity conservation.  More than 100 additional layers are available at the community level for select urban regions, with data summarized at the U.S. Census Block Group scale.  Land cover data at the community level is at a one meter resolution, enabling users to examine fine grain details such as individual street trees or tot lots.  Every data layer comes with a two-page fact sheet explaining where the data came from, why they are important, how they were created, and suggested uses.  Data layers can be exported for use in other applications.  The Eco-Health Browser is an extensive, interactive literature review on the ways ecosystem services are linked to health outcomes, providing context for the relationships between the environmental data and human impacts.

EnviroAtlas’ data and analysis tools can be used to incorporate environmental factors into community assessments or development decisions.  For example, planners could examine a heat map of the walking distance to the nearest park entrance throughout their communities to identify underserved areas when making a siting decision, or they might enter multiple potential transit corridor routes to analyze their impacts on wildlife habitats.  The City of Durham, the first pilot community, used EnviroAtlas to determine the allocation of newly planted trees throughout the city.  The Interactive Map allowed them to analyze which locations had the greatest impacts on their multiple objectives, including stormwater absorption and buffering alongside major roads to minimize vehicular emission dispersion.  They used that information to justify and visualize their options for managing the landscape using green infrastructure, and ultimately created an optimized scenario that strategically located trees to maximize outcomes for each objective.  Stories of other use cases that illustrate the powerful applications of EnviroAtlas’ analysis tools are available on the site.

To use EnviroAtlas and watch training videos to help you make the most of the tool, visit http://enviroatlas.epa.gov/

This webinar was recorded as the first in a three-part webinar series designed to provide professionals in the built environment and public health fields with advanced tools and techniques to improve the quality of life and health in the places in which they work.  See the second webinar on The Community Guide and Improving the Science of Built Environment and Public Health for additional information on how you can help build healthier places. The third webinar, Building the Bridge between Transportation and Health, is forthcoming.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s