Health Impact Assessments and the Law

MLewyn's picture

If you've gone to conferences addressing the relationship between public health and sprawl, you may have heard of something called a "health impact assessment."  If you are a little fuzzy on how this works out in practice, you may want to read a new article coauthored by Prof. Pamela Ko and the Dean of Touro Law Center, Patricia Salkin. (In the interests of full disclosure, I note that since I teach at Touro, Dean Salkin is my boss).

The article explains that HIAs are generally voluntary: a developer or government agency wants to know how a project can yield improved public health, and asks a foundation or a few public health academics to help out.  The article also lists numerous recent examples of HIAs.  For example, when the city of Baltimore was revising its zoning code, it asked an institute at Johns Hopkins to make recommendations.  The institute recommended "improving access to healthy foods, creating walkable environments and expanding mixed use areas" as well as "the prevention of off-premises alcohol sales in transit-oriented development and industrial mixed use zones".

My additional thoughts: I certainly think HIAs can be a useful tool- but wouldn't want them to be mandatory.  It seems to me that (especially in heavily regulated areas such as downstate New York and coastal California) opponents of development already have plenty of ways to delay development.  And because a project with plenty of neighbors is likely to attract more opposition than a project with very few neighbors, such delay is especially likely to limit infill development, which in turn means that people will have to move to sprawl suburbia in order to find inexpensive housing.  

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