When the larger cities started to become industrialized, the factories were typically located on rivers in the city and then additional factories joined the existing ones along these same rivers and other waterways. (These have always been major areas of insect and rodent infestation.) The waterway was utilized in manufacturing, as a means of transportation, and as a means of disposal of liquid, solid, and gaseous wastes. The land around the factories was typically very cheap and in many situations in poor condition. This was where housing was built for the workers, and both the structures and the surrounding environment were poorly constructed and poorly maintained. Generations of immigrants from abroad and migrants from farm areas were housed in these areas in extremely overcrowded, unsanitary conditions. In the better areas of the city, where the middle class and upper class lived, a single three-storey house typically was used by a family of six to eight people. As time went on and housing demands grew because of more poor people coming into the cities, these houses were sold to absentee landlords, who turned each house into six separate apartments and which now was the living facility for 50-60 people. The middle class and upper class moved to newer areas and into the suburbs. In these structures, the indoor air pollutants were greater and the level of asthma, especially among children, increased sharply. The children usually attended and still attend poorly constructed and/or older school facilities in close proximity to polluting facilities. In urban areas, poorer communities tend to be overcrowded and congested with higher levels of air pollutants from automobiles, incinerators, industries, and diesel buses. People tend to live in older houses with lead-based paints, substantial numbers of roaches, mice and rats, and poor housing and community conditions.

In general, urban areas are large population centers with old infrastructure and housing stock which utilizes substantial amounts of energy and water while contributing to a variety of air, water, and land pollution. The concentrations of people and facilities also lead to an increase in noise levels, respiratory illnesses, injuries, and violence. The results of these conditions are intensified by an aging population, many with chronic conditions, who are more susceptible to a variety of environmental problems.

Best Practices for Improving the Built Environment in Urban Areas (See endnotes 6, 7, 8, 9, 10,

  • 11, 12)
  • • Establish a code enforcement regulatory agency which could be housed in either the environmental health division or in a special code enforcement division. There should also be a special prosecutor assigned to the code enforcement regulatory agency and a special housing court to quickly handle violations of the housing code when they affect the health and safety of the individuals or community. Fines should be utilized to enforce appropriate actions and, if necessary, the judge should issue an injunction which would mean that if the situation were not corrected within a given period of time, the owners of the property could go to jail.
  • • Establish appropriate laws, rules, and regulations concerning: zoning including all types of land use; housing codes; plumbing codes; fire codes; and use of various safety devices.
  • • Establish an overall master plan and strategy utilizing modern environmental technology for the entire area under consideration and for the subareas which will be worked on over time.
  • • Have the appropriate political entities to approve the necessary financing for a Planning Commission to survey specific areas of the urban setting and make determinations utilizing various professionals on necessary changes to make the area more livable, safer, and environmentally sound.
  • • Conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment to help predict the consequences to all aspects of the natural environment as well as social, economic, and cultural areas from specific development projects and take these into account when making land-use decisions.
  • • Establish a Planning Commission representing the various stakeholders in a given area to determine appropriate land-use planning of existing facilities and new use of land. This would include the various levels of government, business, industry, civic organizations, universities, political entities and others.
  • • Establish local committees of professionals on the use of land as well as building and maintenance of structures to advise the Planning Commission on all aspects of the urban plan.
  • • Determine if the plan is sustainable over a period of many years and the potential improvements in the community as well as the potential liabilities.
  • • Evaluate all of the current structures in a target area and determine how to make them more efficient and durable for at least the next 30 years.
  • • Provide a properly funded Environmental Management Office with appropriate staff and legal status to inspect all existing and future structures and prepare standards and Best Practices for compliance by the individuals in the structures to provide appropriate excellence in quality of life in these areas through local zoning and housing and other codes enforcement.
  • • Promote mixed development so that more people are closer to their jobs and services.
  • • Promote affordable housing for low-income families and newly established families and when individuals are forced out of their existing housing because of redevelopment. By law they should be given equivalent housing quarters in another acceptable area.
  • • Utilize existing land which is already serviced by water, sewage, gas, electricity, telephones, etc. before developing new land on the periphery of the urban area. This is far more efficient and cost-effective and avoids destroying natural habitats as well as creating new sources of pollution.
  • • All downspouts must discharge to the surface of the ground and not to the storm sewers.
  • • Do not put new industries that utilize or create hazardous materials within or close to people and their homes to avoid additional health and safety problems.
  • • Utilize space which is currently available in urban areas by retrofitting and converting old buildings and facilities for new uses, by filling in spaces between buildings where previous structures have been torn down, and by replacing parking lots with buildings containing parking garages and parks. The removal of parking lots and replacing them partially with parks will decrease air pollution and increase the groundwater supply.
  • • In newly developed land, create a cluster of structures which have smaller lot sizes and homes laid out efficiently with smaller square footage, thereby creating the idea of roominess. This allows for more people to live comfortably in a smaller area, conservation of energy and resources, and the provision of green areas which are necessary for reducing air pollutants, increasing groundwater supply, and providing a better and healthier environment for the people living there.
  • • Reduce impervious surfaces wherever possible to increase the groundwater supply and decrease the chance for wildfires especially in those areas where a substantial amount of land was used to create parking lots and roads.
  • • Avoid the destruction of existing wetlands.
  • • Clean up the contaminated areas of the urban environment called brownfields and use those properties for a variety of purposes including mixed residential, commercial and green areas.
  • • Establish specifications for energy-efficient buildings and energy conservation.
  • • Establish specifications for water conservation and wastewater reuse.
  • • Establish specifications and schedules needed to perform appropriate maintenance in all structures and associated equipment.
  • • Replace essential equipment within structures when the effective lifespan has been reached. Do this on a regularly scheduled basis.
  • • Reduce solid waste through waste minimization, use of composting and anaerobic digestion where feasible, recycling of materials, and turning waste into energy.
  • • Establish the roadways to be used to remove hazardous substances, materials, and waste away from residential areas.
  • • Reduce noise levels by enforcing the appropriate noise ordinances and providing specific assistance to areas of high noise to help them make appropriate reductions.
  • • Determine the current levels of: air pollution, outdoor and indoor; energy use and waste; groundwater contamination and depletion; destruction of historical structures and places; damage to the land and ecosystem; solid and hazardous waste from households and industries; water pollution and water depletion; and how the project will affect it. Make necessary adjustments if negative effects will occur.
  • • Determine the age and condition of the infrastructure under the various streets and roads involving water, sewage and gas, and establish a long-range plan to upgrade the systems to prevent unwanted breakdowns and potential hazards.
  • • Develop appropriate means of treating stormwater especially from areas of high contamination from roadways, other surfaces, and industries before the water is released into the watershed.
  • • Develop and enforce emissions standards for vehicles in the communities to reduce the potential for air pollutants going into the air and creating serious health effects.
  • • Determine the capacity and efficiency of the water treatment plants and sewage treatment plants and make necessary plans to upgrade them and expand them as needed.
  • • Monitor and evaluate the entire watershed to ensure that it will provide quality water in adequate quantities to sustain the urban area, and provide for intensive watershed planning and management.
  • • Establish a comprehensive solid and hazardous waste program using techniques of reduction of materials, reuse of bottles and other containers, recycling of paper, plastics, glass, and metal, and recovering energy from waste.
  • • Provide energy-efficient transportation which is convenient and economically viable.
  • • Utilize renewable energy sources whenever practical.
  • • Establish for the entire urban area a comprehensive energy reduction and energy-saving plan.
  • • Use compact land-use patterns where appropriate to open up green spaces for the community use as well as reduce carbon.
  • • Provide for a well-funded Public Health Department including a comprehensive Environmental Health Division that may help prevent disease and injury and promote good health and wellbeing in an expeditious and cost-effective manner.
  • • Provide for a well-funded Emergency Management Agency to be able to respond quickly and responsibly to hazardous events, emergencies, natural disasters, and acts of terrorism.
  • • Make available to all facets of the urban environment immediate access to the internet and electronic devices to utilize the various services and information available.
  • • Establish well-funded educational programs to help citizens help themselves through constructive actions in environmental efforts to reduce pollutants, reduce energy use, and increase the livability of the various structures.
  • • Encourage economic development through use of private funds.
  • • Ensure that stakeholders are constantly involved in all facets of the planning process and then the necessary developmental activities.
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