Physician Involvement in Planning


In recent years, the American public has become all too familiar with the negative effects of urban sprawl and poorly designed public infrastructure. To name a few, degraded air and water quality, decreased mental health, and obesity are all issues that have been linked to sprawl and auto-dependent communities lacking access to sidewalks and other basic amenities. These are just a few of the reasons planners and other city officials are finding themselves looking to outside resources for help.  

A recent article by Dannenberg, Wu and Frumkin points to a possible solution to this decline in public health.  They suggest physician involvement in all levels of the planning process.  The American public, for the most part, has an innate trust in physicians.  They believe that their opinions and suggestions reflect what is best for communities and their wellbeing, with no ulterior motives; therefore, giving physicians suggestions at public meetings or formal comments more weight than an average citizens.  

Historically, physicians have played an integral role in public health initiatives such as anti-smoking campaigns and seatbelt awareness.  The role for physicians in the planning process can have a similar effect on communal behavior.  Dannenberg and his co-authors suggest that involvement can range from volunteer hours for local initiatives and testimonials at community meetings to media-based awareness campaigns.

While the precedence for physician advocacy in planning has been set in other arenas, there are only a number of existing projects related to the built environment that physicians have been involved with as of yet.  According to the article authors, physicians must become involved with planning issues in order to “fulfill the promise that our children will live longer and healthier lives than their parents.”

CNU’s Health Districts initiative takes an interdisciplinary approach to providing design solutions for healthier communities.  This member-led initiative focuses on the interwoven complexity of design and public health. And fundamentally, the initiative recognizes that professionals in many fields – from planning and design to health and social services – must come together to find and apply solutions that help our communities achieve better health outcomes.  To learn more about CNU’s Health Districts, visit: To find out more about planning advocacy and the role of physicians please visit the American Journal of Preventive Medicine at and search for Dannenberg AL, Wu P, Frumkin H. “The role of physicians in promoting healthier built environments” by Al Dannenberg, P Hu, and H. Frumkin.  (Am J Prev Med 2013;44(6):e67-69).



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