If a place isn’t safer, healthier and more nurturing for its people and community, then what good is it? Health is created where we live, learn, work and play, but the standards by which those places are built and operated aren’t often directly analyzed for their health effects. At least not until the advent of the Health Impact Assessment (HIA).
HIA’s are just beginning to be conducted in Arizona, and one of the latest took on a major challenge: Maricopa County’s oldest operational housing project. Built in 1959, today the Coffelt-Lamoureux project is surrounded by commercial and industrial land use and is cut off from the rest of Phoenix on two sides by the I-17 highway. The nearly 300 households calling Coffelt home can claim heart disease as their leading cause of death (much like the rest of the country), and respiratory diseases as the second leading cause (higher than the U.S. average).
The resulting 180-page Health Impact Assessment demonstrates how engaging a community and its developers in a paradigm shift can swiftly reveal the potential for substantial improvements to quality of life, health and well-being. By addressing conditions related to healthy eating, active living, safe travel, healthy housing and overall social fabric, HIAs transform the conversation about how we decide what to do with where we spend time. HIA’s aren’t another hoop to jump through or another report to place on a shelf. If we’re going to get serious about health and the built environment, they’re a game-changer.