The social, environmental, and economic circumstances in which we live shape and constrain many of our individual behaviors and health risks. The complex interaction between these circumstances plays out in a space we call the built environment – the physical, human-made places where we live, work, learn and play. Where and how we design our neighborhoods greatly impacts the physical, social, and mental health and well-being of our communities. When poorly planned, our neighborhoods contribute to obesity, asthma, and low-birth weight among residents. They create barriers to physical activity and healthy food access. Furthermore, poor planning and growth can cause communities to live close to health-harming land uses such as toxic facilities, contaminated land, and pollution-emitting freeways and roadways.
South Los Angeles, like the rest of the city, faces challenging barriers when shaping a built environment that promotes health. And in recent years, the city is experiencing a transformation that is rapidly changing the physical use of land. State legislation such as SB 375 has created a shift in the way we develop our cities, namely by pushing for compact and dense development within our urban areas. This shift has caused unused or underutilized urban land to be targeted for rapid growth – a process known as infill development. However, while our city aims to reduce sprawl and build within urban spaces, we have not found a way to address the health impacts that result from placing new development next to current industrial sites, nor the health impacts that result from redeveloping contaminated land from former industry into residential, mixed use, recreational, or community spaces.
The Land Use & Health program at Physicians for Social Responsibility-LA is focused on assessing and alleviating the contamination and pollution caused by light and heavy industry in South LA. We work with affected communities, local decision-makers and regulatory agencies to ensure health and quality of life for South LA residents by reducing – and eventually eliminating – their exposure to toxic land and air contaminants from industrial uses. In other words, we aim to separate incompatible land uses, such as the siting of industry near residential, learning, and community spaces. By bringing together community voices, decision makers, and health professionals who witness the health impacts of poorly planned urban environments on individuals and communities, we believe we can create healthy urban environments.