New EPA Report Explores Health and the Built Environment

Credit: EPA

Credit: EPA

Guest post by Jessica Hersh-Ballering

“As communities nationwide look for ways to reduce the environmental and human health impacts of their development decisions, the evidence is clear that our nation can continue to grow and can build a strong foundation for lasting prosperity while also protecting our environment and health.” —EPA


The Environmental Protection Agency in June released a new report, Our Built and Natural Environments: A Technical Review of the Interactions among Land Use, Transportation, and Environmental Quality.

Divided into five chapters, the extensive report details the ways in which what we build and how we build affect the environment and, in turn, public health. The graphic at left broadly depicts these direct and indirect effects of the built environment on the natural environment and public health.

ULI members may be interested in this publicly available report. Chapter two contains up-to-date statistics regarding land use and travel behavior trends; it also predicts development trends based on market preferences affected by changing U.S. demographics.

Chapter three contains detailed research quantifying the built environment’s impacts on natural resources and human health.

Perhaps the most useful section for developers and planners, chapter four provides a broad prescription for how to build healthier communities. The chapter focuses on how to carry out infill development and development near transit stations while also safeguarding sensitive natural areas and existing farmland. The report’s authors argue that development near transit stations in particular “can be a catalyst for other land use changes that benefit the environment” and the public’s health.

Chapter four also provides strong, evidence-based arguments in support of compact development, mixed-use development, increased street connectivity, micro-scale urban design features that support use of alternative transportation modes, increased destination accessibility, increased transit availability, and green construction. Although the effects of compact or mixed-use development may be small when considered independently, the authors contend that the “small effects of individual variables can be cumulative.”

Ultimately, they argue, it will take many different techniques employed in unison to have a real and measurable impact on human health and the natural environment.

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