This week’s reading focused on building HIA capacity. The first reading was a lovely report from the Victoria Transport Institute analyzing the health impacts of density, land-use, and transportation on health. The report reviews the literature on the impact of density and land-use on transportation behavior, and the then the impacts of density, land-use, and transportation on physical and emotional health and social capital.
A friend of mine from Hong Kong who is now in Toronto told me recently that’s she’s jealous that I’m involved in public policy. There are fewer opportunities in Canada to be involved public health policy since the social welfare supports in Canada are much stronger and because of universal healthcare—her currently job is as a health services researcher. I had a similar impression of Canada, and also thought that it had a very robust planning process that took into account health impacts and public engagement. So I was surprised that there was a need for this kind of report.
It was also interesting to read about urban planning policy from the perspective of our northern neighbor. In my urban planning class this semester, we’ve had regular discussions about urban sprawl and the impact that it has on public services. The discussion has gone something like this: when developers build on open land beyond the boundaries of existing suburbs, local governments have to scramble to provide water and sewage lines and other public services like libraries and schools. The Canadian report discussed this phenomenon too—but also mentioned that public entities need to provide social welfare services. In the last semester, with the exception of public housing complexes, the placement of social welfare services in the city or new suburbs has never been mentioned. I thought this omission was very revealing of the U.S. concept of public services, even in a liberal academic setting. The need for social welfare infrastructure– like EBT or unemployment offices– never crossed my mind, especially because it’s not something I usually associate with a new suburb.
The Victoria Transport Institute report had a conversational style without being too casual and lots of interesting research results, charts, and graphs. The report was also sprinkled here and there with anecdotes of innovative programs. For instance, the University of Washington and the University of British Columbia both found that giving faculty, students, and staff with parking passes a bus pass reduced the number of people driving alone. At UW, solo car trips decreased by 10% over five years. There were also interesting differences between cross-sectional and longitudinal studies of the impact of attitudes and the build environment on transportation use. The longitudinal studies foudn that both attitudes and the physical environment affected transport behavior. I’ve been keeping all the readings in my HIA folder, but this will definitely be a report to return to. I had to chuckle though, when they included a series of maps showing how obesity rates in Canada have increased over time.
The second reading for today was from Brian Cole and Jonathan Fielding outlining their ideas for growing the HIA field. Their suggestions include establishing a quasi-governmental body, a congressional task force, and clarifying the consideration of health impacts within NEPA legislation. The paper was written in 2008, I would be interested to hear what they think about future directions for the field today. Could the Pew/RWJF center fulfill the role they envisioned for the quasi-governmental body? Do they still think it’s important to establish a congressional task force? Or is it more important to build the body of examples first? I think Rajiv Bhatia might argue for the later, though I’m guessing he would also support stronger health considerations within NEPA.
The case study from today was a HIA on the transportation plan from a county in Georgia—reading it reminded me that I’ve forgotten to include demographic information in my HIA. They had several maps in the HIA that used census tract data to map the county’s population of seniors, young children, people without cars, and people living in poverty, I wonder if I can find some Met Council maps that would be relevant to the SRTS legislation…
That’s the last reading, week 10 in the syllabus is the presentation. (I was relieved to see that there was a week ten, since I’m fond of the subtitle for the blog…)