Land Use & Health

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 centers health and is rooted in the needs of current residents can help communities thrive. But when poorly planned, our neighborhoods can contribute to and create poor health outcomes, displace people from their homes and communities, and place polluting facilities near our homes, schools, and hospitals.

PSR-LA’s Land Use & Health program strives to create healthy and prosperous communities in Los Angeles by addressing these problems through just and equitable frameworks. We assess land use in Los Angeles while working to redress legacies of racist and discriminatory land use policies and practices, with an emphasis on the disproportionately severe contamination and pollution caused by industrial land uses in the South Central community. With racial and social justice at the forefront, the program has three goals: promote healthy land uses and community-led land use planning, reduce exposure to toxic pollutants from past and current industrial uses, and forestall and eliminate the possibility of forced displacement and gentrification.

We engage in various campaigns at the local, state, and regional levels to help ensure that the policies at all levels reflect the needs and solutions identified by impacted communities. This includes efforts to protect community assets and control, such as CEQA advocacy and defense; advance Green Zones initiatives locally and across the state; and help uplift the UNIDAD Coalition’s Public Land for Public Good campaign.

  • Throughout California, low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately burdened by environmental health hazards. Race is the most significant predictor of whether a person lives near contaminated air, water, or soil. People of color make up more than half of the population living near toxic waste sites.
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  • 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.
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  • 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.
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  • Several Los Angeles communities contain facilities that emit toxic pollution. In Southeast Los Angeles—predominately a community of color—roughly one-fifth of its residents live adjacent to noxious land uses.
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  • South Los Angeles lacks green spaces and parks, as well as sufficient transit and active transportation infrastructure, and is facing an affordable housing crisis.

  • Residents of South Los Angeles 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.
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  • Research shows that the cumulative burden of living in close proximity to clusters of low-level pollution emitting facilities can result in negative health outcomes, such as higher rates of asthma, heart disease, low birthweight, psychosocial stress, and mental health impacts.1
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  • Chronic exposure to toxics emitted by industrial facilities can result in short- and long-term negative health outcomes including asthma attacks, organ damage, and cancer.2
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  • Research has demonstrated that communities of color and low-income neighborhoods such as South Central LA disproportionately experience poorer health outcomes, much of which are directly attributable to social and environmental factors.3

  • We need community-driven land use planning that creates healthy neighborhoods and builds the capacity of local residents to meaningfully engage in and lead decision-making processes.
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  • Elected officials, agencies, and other decision-makers have a responsibility to promote and practice land use planning and development that is grounded in equity and justice and directly addresses health disparities.
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  • 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.
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  • 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.
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  • We engage in local and 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.

Our flagship initiative, the 500 Feet Project, is centered in South Central and focuses on addressing and eliminating risks due to incompatible land use, or the close proximity of hazardous uses near sensitive populations. The 500 Feet Project uses an integrative three-pronged approach that combines data collection and visualization, community engagement, and policy research to mobilize around policy solutions that will transform South Central Los Angeles into a healthier and more equitable community.

Residents, advocates, decision-makers, and other community stakeholders can use our 500 Feet Tool to explore their neighborhood and learn about what types of industrial activities are taking place around the corner from their schools, churches, hospitals, and even their own homes. Users can submit corrections through the tool and indicate the need to add, remove, or revise an incorrectly listed use, allowing us to continuously learn from the experts on the community—the residents.

Another cornerstone of this work is the TIERRA Project—PSR-LA’s Toolkit for Integrative, Equitable, Restorative, Remedial, and Advanced (TIERRA) Solutions for Healthy Future Generations Project—which addresses legacy soil contamination and the dearth of safe, healthy, and accessible parks and green space in South Central. Through the project, we identify best practices and are developing a toolkit to ensure that park and open space projects on contaminated soil are comprehensively developed through an efficient and robust community-led planning process.

Read more about our work:

Our work builds on and uplifts the knowledge, experience, and expertise of community residents in order to inform policy development and decisions. We work closely with our community-based partners to learn from and build capacity through workshops, popular education tools, and community tours. Additionally, because our work is intersectional, we support our allies in addressing broader issues of the built environment. 

Our goal is to equip our team, members, and residents to engage with legislators and decision-makers. We work alongside them to tackle myriad issues including those related to housing, transportation, parks and open space, and economic development. Together we can ensure our built environment is equitable, healthy, and safe for all Angelenos to live, play, work, and thrive.

Coalitions

California Environmental Justice Alliance (CEJA)

CEJA is a statewide, community-led alliance that works to achieve environmental justice by advancing policy solutions.

United Neighbors in Defense Against Displacement (UNIDAD)

UNIDAD coalition is the product of a community collaboration formed to prevent the displacement of residents in South Central Los Angeles and to improve the health and economic well-being of low-income communities of color through responsible development.

Alliance for Community Transit-Los Angeles (ACT-LA)

ACT-LA strives to create just, equitable, sustainable transit systems and neighborhoods for all people in Los Angeles, placing the interest of low-income communities and communities of color first as we create a more sustainable region.

Healthy LA

Healthy LA is a network of more than 330 advocacy organizations, worker centers, labor unions, service providers, religious congregations, community groups, affordable housing developers, public interest lawyers, public health and safety organizations, and many more uniting to address the devastating social and economic impact of the pandemic and to achieve just relief, recovery, and reconstruction.

Housing Now! California

Housing NOW! California is a broad and diverse movement building power to make housing affordable and to combat the displacement crisis that is disproportionately impacting working class communities of color. 

Building Healthy Communities South LA (South LA BHC)

BHC SLA is a group of diverse partners —including community organizations, health care providers, schools, government agencies, residents, and youth—working together to make South Los Angeles a healthier place to live, work, and play.

How to Get Involved

Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter, attend an upcoming PSR-LA event, follow us on social media, or become a member of PSR-LA today. If you’re a health professional, you can also participate in our Health Ambassador Program.

Sources

1 California Environmental Protection Agency California Air Resources Board. (2005). Air Quality and Land Use Handbook: A Community Health Perspective.; Morello, R., Zuk, M., et. al. (2011). Understanding the Cumulative Impacts of Inequalities in Environmental Health: Implications for Policy. Health Affairs 30(5), 879-887; City of Los Angeles Air Quality Element (1992)
2 California Environmental Protection Agency California Air Resources Board. (2005). Air Quality and Land Use Handbook: A Community Health Perspective.
3 Morello, R., Zuk, M., et. al. (2011). Understanding the Cumulative Impacts of Inequalities in Environmental Health: Implications for Policy. Health Affairs 30(5): 879-887