Over the past several years, visibility has been increasing on the relationship between how will build our communities and our health outcomes. In broad strokes, communities designed around people support positive health outcomes while communities designed around cars lead to negative health outcomes like increased obesity and repertory illness rates.
Since the increasing body of research around health outcomes and built-form is relativity new, how to act on this knowledge hasn’t been embedded into the design process for communities in Metro Vancouver and British Columbia.
A new “Health Impact Assessment of Transportation and Land Use Planning Activities” is included in a recent Metro Vancouver Regional Planning Committee agenda (starts on page 73). This is a guidebook plus a toolkit to help local, regional, and provincial planners quantify the health outcomes from individual development projects, major and minor transportation projects, to official community plans.
The goal of a Health Impact Assessment, as proposed in the guidebook, is to help identify ways to minimize health risks and increase health benefits from plans, projects, or policies.
Health Impacts Assessments look at:
-Physical environment factors (e.g., air quality, water quality, hazards)
-Built environment factors (e.g., buildings, public spaces, roads, bike lanes)
-Livelihood factors (e.g., income, employment)
-Social and community factors (e.g., social support, family structure, access to services)
-Lifestyle factors (e.g., diet, exercise, alcohol and tobacco use)
These five categories would be evaluated for any plan, project, or policy that goes through the Health Impact Assessment process.
The guidebook provides examples on how to apply a Health Impact Assessment to Official Community Plans, large development projects, and transportation projects. It also uses case studies. For example in BC, Interior Health has a process in place to evaluate large development projects if they are referred to the health authority. Also, TransLink preformed a Health Impact Assessment when looking at the options for replacing or upgrading the Pattullo Bridge.
The guidebook shows examples on how to create a small-scale Health Impact Assessment which would take a few days to complete by one person, all the way to a comprehensive assessment which wold require several months to a year, plus a team to complete. The guidebook and toolkit have been designed so they can be used in all levels of government, and from small-communities to the City of Vancouver.
I look forward to the day when Health Impacts Assessments will become an embedded part of the planning process, that will be acted upon to create healthier communities.