By Judy Corbett
It’s a surprise to many, but there is a relationship between the way a community is planned and the overall health and life span of the people who live there! This is something to keep in mind as we prepare a new downtown plan for Davis, then move on to produce an updated general plan for the entire City.
On Wednesday, April 4, the Davis Futures Forum will feature Dr. Elizabeth Baca who will be addressing this timely topic – community design, physical activity and health. Her presentation will be held in the Davis city council chambers at 7 PM. A response panel will follow, including Kaiser’s delightful family physician, Dr. John Chuck. Peter Jacobson with Bike Davis and Sheila Allen, Executive Director of Yolo Healthy Aging Alliance.
A graduate of Harvard Medical School, Dr. Baca is the health advisor in the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, California’s comprehensive planning agency. She has led the effort to incorporate health, environmental justice, and equity considerations into the General Plan Guidelines Update – a government document that guides the work of cities and counties as they update their general plans.
Dr. Baca’s clinical work has reinforced her view that much of health happens outside of clinics and hospitals. She says it is actually much broader than that. Job creation, housing support, access to quality education, affordable transportation, and support networks are really the foundation not only for health, but also for society to thrive. She has become passionate about reducing health disparities and working to improve the environment to build healthy communities.
The field of land use planning and health is a relatively new one and Baca is at the forefront. This movement began in the mid nineties, when the Director of Environmental Health at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta had an epiphany. Dr. Richard Jackson understood that physical activity is critical to health and that people in this country were passing away at a younger age. Could the problem be that for the majority of people, it was no longer safe nor even possible to walk, bike, or take transit to work or the market, or for kids to walk or bike to school? Could the decline in the health of the US population be a result of sprawl and the resulting traffic congestion that forces people to spend more and more time in their cars?
Jackson’s hypothesis regarding physical activity, health and community design and his activism around this issue was quickly picked up by those concerned about the rapidly growing numbers of overweight and obese children and adults in the US – the concern was so great that overweight and obesity were declared to have reached epidemic proportions. Research dollars followed from both federal sources and foundations. The result – Jackson’s hypothesis was confirmed. The way we design our communities does indeed impact physical activity and health. Those who live where they can walk, bike, and take transit to their daily destinations get more physical activity and are healthier than those who are forced to spend much of their lives in a car.
Not long after, some leading physicians at Kaiser Permanente began to encourage their patients to walk rather than drive to nearby destinations and some county public health officials started to get involved in neighborhood planning with the goal of making it easier and safer for people to incorporate physical activity in their daily lives.
In Davis, a national leader in accommodating bicycle travel, ¾ of us still drive rather than bike or walk to work. Given our busy lifestyles, we tend to use the fastest way to get where we need to go. To maximize the health or our population, we need to design our communities so it is quicker, safer, and more pleasant to walk, bike, or take transit to our daily destinations. This is something to keep in mind as we prepare a new downtown plan, then move on to prepare a new general plan for the entire City.
We thank Bike Davis for sponsoring Baca’s presentation to be held in the City Hall, Wednesday, April 4, 7 to 8:30 PM. To guarantee a seat, please obtain a ticket at https://healthydavis.eventbrite.com/.
Judy Corbett is a Davis resident and a founder of the Local Government Commission