The Built Environment

In recent history the principal health threat from the built environment was from asbestos usage and exposure to lead. Now however, there is a growing recognition that the leading causes of illness and death such as heart disease and cancer may be exacerbated by other elements within the built environment, which contribute to sedentary lifestyles and harmful environments.

In terms of contemporary urban planning the focus is more upon adequate light, sufficient ventilation and zoning, which aims to improve health through the deconcentration of populations and the separation of residential and business areas. At a broader level this includes spatial planning, land-mix use and transportation infrastructure.

At local level, the design, maintenance and use of buildings, public spaces and transport networks are all important.  As Lavin et al (2006) observed, encouraging people to walk and cycle around a neighbourhood means making streets safe and attractive, ensuring it meets the needs of all users, not just drivers. Also, a well designed park attracts people; this in turn attracts others, encouraging them to stay longer and undertake more activity, which promotes a healthier lifestyle. In this way, the built environment has a key part to play in the health and wellbeing of the population, whatever the location.

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