Building Healthy Communities Essay

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BUILDING HEALTHY COMMUNITIES by Dr. Howard Frumkin, M.D., Dr. P.H., Director National Center for Environmental Health Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Have you ever thought about how the way we design and build our communities can affect our health? You’ve just seen some examples of both positive and negative community design. You saw parks where people can get regular exercise. You saw sidewalks where people can walk to the places they need to routinely go and keep physically active. But you also saw some dangerous pedestrian crossings where people take their lives in their hands. You saw traffic jams where people may sit for hours becoming angry and breathing dangerous fumes. I’m Dr. Howard Frumkin, Director of the National Center for Environmental Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We’re here to talk about how community design can either protect or threaten our health. This is not a new concept. From the earliest days of our ancestors living in caves, they must have known that some places were healthier than others. A dangerous cave could be a cave with moisture, with too much smoke from fires, or with varmints. Much later when our ancestors moved into cities and towns, some cities and towns were healthier than others based on the supply of fresh water, treatment of sewage, and the way they handled their waste materials. Next we came to the industrial revolution a couple of centuries ago, and as factories located in towns, the results were sometimes pretty negative. People found themselves living downwind from the factory emissions which could be toxic to their health. In the last fifty or sixty years we have seen a new design for communities and it has become typical in many parts of our country. It’s a pattern called “urban sprawl.” It’s

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