Volume 47 – Planning for Healthy Cities (2022)

Editor: William Pierce Holloway

Read Volume 47 here.

Winston Churchill was once quoted as saying, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” We as planners have a responsibility to look to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the resulting challenges, as an opportunity to learn and better frame how our work can bolster health. Volume 47 of the Carolina Planning Journal is titled “Planning for Healthy Cities.” The title itself is aspiration, as the concept that planners alone can ensure healthy communities is fantasy. Planners must collaborate with, listen to, and learn from multitudes of individuals from varying fields. Health is not tied to just the physical space of the city; it spreads beyond tangible infrastructure and extends deep into the roots of a community.

By 2050 it is projected that 70% of the world’s population will be living in urban areas. The weight of this and other projections have prompted many influential organizations such as the European Union, World Health Organization, and American Planning Association to examine the pivotal role planners play in improving and protecting the public’s health for generations to come.

To explore the many definitions and concepts of a planner’s role in promoting health, we asked students, professionals, and researchers alike to explore the nexus of planning and health. The resulting articles provide an array of interpretations and important perspectives on how planning is intertwined with health.

Decades of research have shown a connection between adverse outcomes from childhood lead exposure and its ties to racial and class inequalities. Elijah Gullett (UNC ’22) contributes to this body of work by examining a case study of 31 counties in North Carolina. Importantly, the topic of healthy cities extends beyond symptoms identified by a medical practitioner and includes how social anchors can influence a community’s economic health. Marielle Saunders (MCRP ’22) and Eve Lettau (MCRP ’22) examine the link between health outcomes and economic development strategies. Their article leverages three case studies to explore strategies that shift the economic development paradigm from pure growth to quality development and community wellbeing.

During COVID-19 there was a constant struggle to effectively and clearly communicate evolving scientific information. Rebecca Kemper, PhD, Frederic Bertley, PhD, and Joseph Wisne consider the struggles cities have had converting successive, highly technical medical research findings into protective health advisories. Their work seeks to provide planners with an understanding of how to use cultural institutions as a public health resource and communicative resource. Developing tools and frameworks that can assist planners to best address varying issues is an important field of research.

Emily Gvino (MCRP ’21) and Julia Maron (MCRP ’22) look at how local planners and municipalities, primarily in urban communities, can best address extreme heat within the lens of equitable resilience. The reframing of how planners can address climate resilience provides many parallels to how planners may address other community issues. Michelle Nance and Emily Scott-Cruz identify ways public health intersects with transportation planning and provide recommendations to North Carolina transportation planners, policymakers, and advocates. Their article offers advice for how to improve health outcomes through changing transportation planning practices, policy making, and prioritization.

Building on the importance of developing safe transportation system policies, Daniel Capparella, Ashleigh Glasscock, and Jessica Hill (DCRP ’09) use Nashville, TN, to develop a non-motorized risk index. Their system-level tool can be used to proactively identify areas with unsafe non-motorized conditions and motivate other transportation planners to reimagine how they classify risk. Vision Zero, a global movement to end traffic-related fatalities, takes a systemic approach to road safety. While Vision Zero plans have grown in popularity across the country, they are implemented to varying degrees. Seth LaJeunesse, Becky Naumann, Elyse Keefe, and Kelly R. Evenson examined 31 United States Vision Zero plans published through mid-2019 to explore the degree to which local and regional transportation safety plans intended to eliminate serious and fatal road injury (Vision Zero) integrated land use plans, planners, and ordinances.

This year’s cover photo comes from Josephine Justin (DCRP Master’s student). She explores the relationship physical spaces have with health, offering New York City as an example. “Two years ago, New York confirmed its first COVID-19 case and the City shut down its schools, restaurants, and businesses. As the world went into a state of lockdown, NYC emerged as an early epicenter of the pandemic. NYC’s skyline features in the cover photo. The city was bustling with residents and tourists when this picture was taken in March of 2021, but the legacy of the pandemic lives on as we mourn those we lost.

These past two years have shown us the importance of this year’s journal theme, Planning for Healthy Cities. While NYC and the world has been returning to normalcy, the pandemic is far from over as new variants emerge and cities face obstacles in distributing vaccines, tests, and treatments. The virus has exposed social and racial inequities in our cities and how the built environment can affect our health. May we use the lessons we have learned during this pandemic to rebuild our communities to be healthy, sustainable, and resilient.”