LAND USE & HEALTH

The Land Use & Health Program at Physicians for Social Responsibility-LA focuses on assessing land use in Los Angeles, with an emphasis on the severe contamination and pollution caused by industrial land uses in the South Central community. The program has 3 goals: (1) to promote healthy land use, (2) to reduce exposure to toxic contaminants present on sites affected by industrial land uses, while (3) eliminating forced displacement by promoting equitable development

The social, environmental, and economic circumstances in which we live shape our health risks, and often constrain our opportunities for health. The complex interaction between these circumstances plays out in the built environment – the physical, human-made places where we live, work, and play. Where and how we design these spaces directly shapes the physical, social, and mental health and wellbeing of our communities. Land use planning that emphasizes health and is rooted in the needs of current residents can help communities thrive. But when poorly planned, our neighborhoods can contribute to poor health outcomes, displace people from their homes and communities, and place polluting facilities near our homes, schools, and hospitals. The projects and initiatives in PSR-LA’s Land Use & Health Program strive to create healthy and prosperous communities in Los Angeles by addressing these problems in a just and equitable way.

What are the problems?

  • Throughout the state, low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately burdened by environmental health hazards. Race is the most significant predictor of a person living near contaminated air, water, or soil, and people of color make up more than half of the population living near toxic waste sites.
  • South Los Angeles is ranked in the top 10% most polluted communities in the state, and is overburdened with industrial facilities, hazardous waste, and contaminated land. (CalEnviroScreen2.0)
  • Land use incompatibility – the practice of siting incompatible land uses in close proximity to each other, such as a polluting facility near a residential neighborhood, school, or hospital – contributes to poor health outcomes. South Central Los Angeles experiences high levels of land use incompatibility.
  • Several Los Angeles communities contain facilities that emit toxic pollution. In Southeast Los Angeles – predominately a community of color – roughly 1/5th of its residents live adjacent to noxious land uses.
  • South LA lacks green spaces and parks, lacks sufficient transit and active transportation infrastructure, and is facing an affordable housing crisis (Health Atlas)
  • Residents of South LA are expected to live nearly 12 years less than residents of Brentwood, in addition to experiencing higher rates of lung cancer, coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

Why does it matter?

  • Creating healthy and prosperous neighborhoods produces multiple health benefits for families, communities, the city, and beyond.

  • Healthy communities are more productive, safer, and happier. When a community is not spending money on cleaning up environmental messes, they can focus instead on youth education and job creation. When a family doesn’t have to spend money on health visits and ailments, they can instead purchase healthier food like vegetables and fruits. When families are able to walk, bike or take the bus to work, we reduce air pollution from cars and significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

  • Promoting development that ensures that current residents can participate and benefit from the decisions that shape their neighborhoods (equitable development) has been shown to produce social, economic, health, environmental, and climate benefits.

  • We can directly address health disparities in our communities by planning communities that provide for basic needs such as affordable housing and transit options, park space, and clean air, water, and soil.

What are some solutions?

  • We need community-driven land use planning that creates healthy neighborhoods and builds the capacity of local residents.
  • Elected officials, agencies and advocates have a responsibility to promote land use planning and development that is grounded in equity and justice, and directly addresses health disparities.
  • Green Zones are one approach to resolving poor planning and pollution in our communities. This place-based strategy uses community-led solutions to transform areas overburdened by pollution into healthy and thriving neighborhoods. Green Zones lift up the voices and visions of residents first and foremost, and are comprehensive, community-led, solution-oriented, and collaborative.
  • PSR-LA is addressing land use incompatibility in South Central as one strategy to transform the community into a Green Zone. Incompatible land uses can be resolved with stronger regulations that buffer industrial pollution from residential land and prohibits new toxic land use near homes
  • We engage in state-level policy solutions that mitigate pollution in overburdened neighborhoods, strengthen regulation and enforcement of polluting industries, create spaces for community voices and solutions in land-use decisions, and generate investments for impacted communities.

Learn More

For more information on our Land Use & Health program, contact:

Monika Shankar, Director of Special Projects, mshankar@psr-la.org, 213-689-9170 

Jazmine Johnson, Land Use & Health Program Associate, jjohnson@psr-la.org, 213-689-9170