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Built Environment- Healthy Homes and Healthy Communities


The Built Environment is the sum of all the physical changes, both positive and negative, made to the natural environment by people. This includes roads and highways, homes and communities, schools and places of worship, agricultural areas, businesses, industrial areas, landfills, dams, etc.

The Built Environment causes the disruption of the natural environment including air, water, and land and the disruption of ecosystems. The preservation of natural lands and critical environmental areas protects water quality including appropriate quantities of high-quality drinking water as well as air quality. The natural environment helps regulate ambient air temperatures and the amount and frequency of precipitation, as well as helps prevent flooding.

Population growth has also contributed to the disruption of the natural environment. Planning agencies have difficulty in utilizing an area-wide approach to develop the land and water in the natural environment appropriately because there are a multitude of political jurisdictions with a huge number of potentially different laws, rules, and regulations. Zoning is also frequently a political issue instead of one which is in the best interest of the public.

It is generally understood that land use and decisions on types of transportation to be made available for people may affect environmental protection, public health, and the quality of life. On a regional basis, the location of types of transportation sources may influence housing patterns, other structures and services, and necessary infrastructure. On a local basis, the distance from places of employment and other services dictates the types of transportation used, whether it is walking, bicycling, using cars, or public sources such as buses and other vehicles. Short vehicle rides tend to release more pollutants into the air. Greater traffic increases the opportunity for noise. Street network connectivity is very important because it has been shown that where this is poorly designed and inadequate there are more accidents and more deaths from injuries. (See endnote 31.)

The Interstate Highway System has had a profound effect on where and how land is used for all types of purposes. It is now possible to have a core city with surrounding suburbs that utilize the resources and jobs in the city. Much of the land in the surrounding areas was never meant to be used for concentrated housing and therefore the land use has caused innumerable environmental problems in these communities. Also people may have to drive long distances to go to work and for other purposes.

The nature of the different types of housing available and how the communities are reconfigured or originally planned and constructed makes the difference between short distances to walking areas, bicycling paths, public transportation, or short drives to businesses, places of employment, schools, churches, and parks from homes, or long distances with resulting air pollution, excess energy use, additional cost to the individual, and waste of time by the public. The range of homes available to the elderly as well as the disabled increases their ability to remain within their own home and neighborhood instead of having to go to assisted living facilities or homes for the aged. Elderly people not only contribute financially to their community but also feel happier when remaining within familiar surroundings. Further, a mixed community of different ages of people is especially good for children. The children are constantly in contact with the elderly and this helps them establish appropriate values on learning to respect and help other people. They also have the opportunity to gain an enormous amount of knowledge from the elderly that cannot be taught in the schools or in textbooks. (See endnote 6.)

To be able to evaluate the Built Environment, the author has added to the potential concerns promoted by the European Green Group developed as indicator areas as follows: the heat island effect created by large structures and substantial paved areas crowded together in cities and how to reduce it; local means of preventing global climate change; condition and performance of local transport; the amount and distribution of green urban space; the amount of impervious surfaces built such as roads and parking lots as well as the areas surrounding buildings; the sustainability of current and future land use; the nature and diversity of the natural environment; the quality of the local ambient air as well as the indoor air of all structures; the quantity and level of noise pollution; the amount of solid and hazardous waste produced and how it is managed; the amount of water, especially drinking quality water consumed, and the quality and quantity of sources; the amount and concentration of biological and chemical pollutants as well as physical agents in wastewater, how it is treated and where it is ultimately disposed; the amount of electricity, gas and other forms of energy readily and economically available for use by people, business, industry and government; the level of environmental management carried out by government, industry and individuals; the type of communications strategy used and the distribution and quality of the communications network including the internet; the type, quantity and quality of emergency management used for all types of emergencies, disasters and terrorism; the positive and potentially negative effect of various facets of the Built Environment on the health, safety and general welfare of people. (See endnotes 4, 5.)

The nature of the Built Environment has a profound effect on all people, but even more so when it is badly substandard, helping create severe health, safety, and welfare problems for the citizens who live there because of release of pollutants from industries, motor vehicles, construction, and other sources as well as the poor neighborhood conditions and poor housing conditions present. Poor housing helps create social, physical, and mental health problems including anxiety, depression, substance abuse, crime and aggressive behavior, asthma, heart disease, obesity, etc. Many people continue to live in these types of conditions because other forms of housing are unaffordable. They do not have the money to both house their families and feed and clothe them.

An extremely significant part of the Built Environment not discussed above is the broad question of the types and conditions of structures that people use for homes. This area of housing and the many related problems will be better understood by reading the material below. A separate set of Best Practices will be described for the Built Environment and also for the Housing Environment including building location, design, maintenance, renovation or retrofitting, and sustainability.

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