The Built Environment
The built environment is comprised of entities that form the physical characteristics of a community, including but not limited to buildings, roads, transportation, parks, and all other human-created structures. Human health is impacted through a wide range of mechanisms, including pollution, physical activity, and emotional/psychological reactions. Very few interventions promoting community health can be successful without taking the built environment into account.
In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) created a tool to be used to assess those features of the built environment deemed to be most relevant for human health and well-being. The manual for this tool is available for you on the course online library.
In this assignment, you will be conducting a “walk” through a neighborhood and assess the built environment. You are not asked to “complete” the tool per se, but instead will be using the domains highlighted in this tool to ground your assessment. The core features highlighted in the tool include:
- recreational sites
- food environment
You are asked to conduct a 1-2 mile walk through a community of your choosing. The objective of this assignment is to pay particular attention to the built environment as it pertains to public health and health-related outcomes. Think about the domains listed above, as well as any additional features that stand out in your mind. For example:
- Infrastructure: consider maintenance of buildings, types of advertisements someone might encounter (positive amenities vs. alcohol/drug ads), types of stores, etc.
- Walkability/bikeability: consider presence or absence of sidewalks/bike lanes, disability accessibility, lighting for movement after dark, etc.
- Recreational sites: consider community centers, green space/parks, gardens, religious/spiritual gathering places, etc.
- Food environment: consider grocery stores or convenience stores and whether they have fresh nutritious foods available, types of restaurants or meal options for purchase, etc.
- Other: consider public swimming pools, art work/graffiti, bars on windows (and what message that sends), etc.
We encourage you to look at Appendix E of the CDC’s Assessment Tool Manual (available in the online library on the course website), which describes aspects of the environment that they point out in the tool, and includes pictures of several of those features. This will give you some ideas on features of the built environment that you may choose to highlight under each domain.
- Many students find it interesting to replicate a walk that they do on a regular basis, but this time with a different observational lens. Others find it more interesting to choose a new community in which to do their walk. Either option is acceptable.
- Think about the public health messaging conveyed both through overt signs as well as more subtle signals (such as bars on windows). How might these be interpreted both by local residents as well as by people visiting the area?
- We encourage you (assuming it is safe for you to do so) to take photos of structures or objects that highlight your observations. If it is not safe to do so, it is acceptable to use public-access photos gathered online in your assignment, with appropriate citation/referencing.
Please note that safety must be your top priority throughout the planning and conducting of your community walk. Please consider:
1) conducting your community walk with others
2) this does not have to be a “walk”; it can also be conducted using Google maps satellite view, or other forms of transportation and observation.
3) this is an assessment of the built environment, therefore do NOT take photos of people. Additionally, this is an assignment based on observation, therefore do NOT interview or gather information directly from local residents.
4) avoid the obvious display of electric equipment or other expensive items, not only for safety precautions but also to assure direct observation and reflection opposed to through a lens of an electronic device.
PowerPoint (~5-8 slides, include the following):
- Map of neighborhood & walk route, brief history of community
- Description of assessment, covering at least one item/example from each of the five domains described above. You are encouraged to include pictures and/or anecdotes of observations – this should include both “positive” and “negative” examples.
- 2-3 positive public health aspects of the built environment (from observations, not from data)
- 2-3 potential public health challenges of the environment (from observations, not from data)
- Overall impression: Assessment of community (needs, assets, challenges, and social and environmental challenges). What did you learn from this experience? What stood out? Did this exercise conjure any feelings related to the environments impact on health?