Impacts of the Built Environment: Improving Public Health and Sustainability in California's Communities

This page last reviewed December 16, 2016

diagram of components of sustainable community effortsThe World Health Organization defines health as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease. Communities that provide access to essential needs such as housing, food, transportation, and recreation, in addition to providing public safety and a robust sense of community, are better equipped to create an environment that improves public health and well-being. In our towns and cities the built environment, the human-made space in which people live, work and play, is a major contributor to the overall health of a community and its members. Sustainable built environment designs help create neighborhoods that are both economically secure and environmentally friendly, thus improving community livability, enhancing social well-being and ensuring a healthy environment for future generations.

A major goal of the Air Resources Board is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while providing clean, healthful air to all Californians and the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008 (SB 375) was passed to help achieve this goal.  Sustainable community strategies use coordinated transportation and land use planning to reduce reliance on the use of private fossil fuel-powered vehicles, thus reducing greenhouse gas and criteria air pollutant emissions, while creating more vibrant and connected neighborhoods, and improving public health.  These sustainable built environment designs include transit-oriented communities and walkable and bikeable neighborhoods, which in addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving air quality, increase opportunities for physical activity, which contribute to a healthier community.

Public Health, the Built Environment and Sustainability Research

ARB is actively engaged in research that can help California reduce production of greenhouse gases while helping our cities mitigate the impacts of exposure to air pollutants that harm health. ARB's Sustainable Communities Research Program includes projects on how various built environment features can be effective in reducing the levels of air pollution exposure. These projects are designed to provide information that planners can use to improve the public health of our communities by reducing air pollution and promoting active transportation and sustainability. Click here to learn more.

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Additional Resources

For more information about Health and the Built Environment, contact Dr. Barbara Weller at (916) 324-4816.