Three months ago, I wrote a post headlined “Why doesn’t the public health community get it about walkability?” Several commenters quite rightly took issue with that statement, pointing out all the ways in which health advocates do indeed get it, and are working hard and well on improving our built environment to encourage walking and other physical activity. What I should have written, of course, was something much more limited and directed not outward but at my own community: why don’t more mainstream environmental-group health advocates care about walkability?
That was the real source of my frustration. But, really, it’s not just the health branch of the environmental world. The number of advocates in the mainstream environmental community who place a priority on neighborhood and regional design for any reason – health or otherwise – is pretty limited. (NRDC elevated sustainable communities to an institutional priority for the first time just this year.) With respect to the relationship between neighborhood form and public health specifically, the number becomes miniscule.
There is a significant current exception to the general rule that environmental groups don’t pay much attention to urban form. A number of philanthropic institutions have poured an astounding amount of resources into federal and state transportation policy issues in the last three years, and we’re definitely paying attention.