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Book Review: “Making Healthy Places – Designing and Building for Health, Well-being, and Sustainability”

We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children. 

This ancient proverb forms the introduction to “Making Healthy Places – Designing and Building for Health, Well-being, and Sustainability.” How we alter the Earth, to create public and private spaces—the built environment—has multiple implications for the health of the population and the health of the planet.

Broadly defined, the built environment refers to human-made surroundings: homes, buildings, etc., and the supporting infrastructure, such as water supply and energy networks.  The built environment is where people work and play. The design, construction, and management of these surroundings directly impacts public health and environmental health. The built environment, natural environment, and human health affect each other.

Published in August 2011 by Island Press, “Making Healthy Places” was written by Andrew Dannenberg, Howard Frumkin, and UCLA Professor Dr. Richard J. Jackson.

Island Press is a leader in publishing books on environmental issues and seeks to advance environmental science by nurturing the exchange of ideas across disciplines and sectors by creating multidisciplinary literature on environmental problems and solutions.

richard jackson headshotIn addition to his current role with the University, Richard J. Jackson, M.D., M.P.H is a pediatrician. He previously served as Director of the National Center for Environmental Health at the Center for Disease Control and as the State Public Health Officer for California. He is the co-author of “Urban Sprawl and Public Health” (Island Press, 2004). This new publication is a follow-up text to that work.

The book is divided into four sections. Early chapters are devoted to the impact of community design on health.  Community design and how it relates to physical activity, air quality, and water quality and quantity are addressed.  One focuses on food environments, concentrating particularly on the obesity epidemic, and how unhealthy nutrition can be directly correlated with a poorly constructed built environment.  Another highlights how the built environment can affect social capital by providing opportunities for formal and informal social interactions and promoting investment in shared spaces. How the built environment relates to injury occurrence is discussed, as well as how mental health is influenced. Lastly covered is how a more complete understanding of populations and their vulnerabilities is crucial if health and design professionals are to address health threats in the built environment effectively.

The intermediate section seeks to diagnose current problems and offer solutions to heal the built environment. Transportation and land use, proximity to nature, and resiliency to disaster are subjects that are tackled. This segment also outlines how to create healthier homes, workplaces, schools, and healthcare settings.

A toolbox is included in the third section, describing various strategies to improve the built environment, including behavioral choices, policy and legislative changes, and community engagement at the design and planning levels.  The concluding chapter of this section focuses on assessment.

Finally, the book projects forward, describing what needs to happen in the future if we wish to achieve sustainability and establish a built environment that has a positive impact on environmental and public health.

The official website for the publication offers additional resources: key points and discussion questions for each chapter, the research agenda complied by the book’s contributors, and feedback from professors and students using the text in courses and professionals using its ideas to inform their own plans and designs.

This is a comprehensive look at a multifaceted and extremely significant subject matter.  The content is compelling and the expertise of the publication’s authors quite apparent.  Intended to be used for instructional purposes, in the academic and professional arenas, the publication can easily find an audience with readers concerned about how their surroundings influence their health, well-being, and the state of our future on planet Earth.