Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Zoning and Public Health

In today's post at Gotham Gazette Tom Angotti advocates a more proactive role for city planners in the area of public health. As he points out, "Researchers around the nation are beginning to explore ways in which the built environment of the city affects public health, particularly with respect to epidemics like obesity and asthma."

The question here is to what extent public policy can help to promote a "healthier environment." In this discussion Angotti replays the analysis that we had laid out in our original outline of the fast food zoning controversy, an analysis that owes a debt to the researchers at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Angotti believes that zoning "levers" can be used to "influence the elements that contribute to epidemics even if they alone won't cure them." In this evaluation of zoning the new emphasis is on "health impacts" and the ways in which this variable is as important as safety and welfare. Clearly, as this analysis indicates, access to healthy food options looms large in the search for a healthier environment.

All of which gets us back to the need to devise a health and food access policy that promotes the building of more inner city super markets and the development of incentives for inner city stores and restaurants to promote healthier products and menus. As Angotti closes, "The first step, however, is for the city's planners to reestablish a role for themselves in promoting public health."