Healthy by Design

Can America’s most populous county design its way to better physical health and lower obesity rates? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave Los Angeles County $16 million in 2010 to find out.

The county used the funds to create a Healthy Design Ordinance that calls for changes such as better walking environments; wider, shaded sidewalks; more bicycle parking; improved access to healthy foods, including community gardens and farmer’s markets; and more county oversight of the design of proposed development to ensure healthy design is being followed.

Unfortunately, the 200-page ordinance provides scant detail about what it would mean for low-income areas, though it does “encourage the commission to also take steps towards addressing specific strategies to eliminate barriers to physical activity in underserved, low income communities.” The draft goes on to suggest increases in open space and parks in underserved communities and to look into integrating that open space with pedestrian, bike, and transit access, but it doesn’t explore how that might be implemented or how any of those areas’ particular challenges might be addressed.

We would expect that this type of ordinance would place a heavier emphasis on underserved communities, considering the significant health disparities that exist throughout that region. While the LA County Board of Supervisors approved the ordinance in January 2012, it hasn’t been adopted. Perhaps some of these considerable omissions will be addressed prior to the adoption date.

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