New RPA Report Demonstrates Link Between Urban Planning and Health

The New York region is healthier than ever before. It used to be that life expectancy in the metropolitan area was below that of the U.S.. Today, New Yorkers live longer than the average American. As RPA’s new report, The State of the Region’s Health, highlights, the health of our residents in our region is heavily influenced by the urban environments where they live, work and play.

The report finds that smart, health-conscious urban planning has produced significant dividends for health outcomes in our region. The development of walkable streets and investments in accessible transit systems has transformed our urban areas into a built-in gym, promoting exercise in our everyday lives. Safer streets and fewer drivers has led to fewer deaths from from motor vehicle crashes in the New York region than in the U.S. overall. And people in the region are typically well connected to a variety of destinations. In fact, residents of the region living in poverty have better access to jobs, supermarkets and parks than the overall population.

While many investments in accessible urban systems and integrated land use have promoted healthier communities, planning decisions that have reinforced inequality and segregation have led to adverse health outcomes for racial and ethnic minorities and lower-income residents of our region. In some parts of the New York metropolitan area, black individuals live as much as five years less on average than their white and Hispanic counterparts. These disparities are also seen in different parts of the region based on income. People living in poorer areas such as the Bronx and Sullivan County have a much lower life expectancy than those living in wealthier communities, such as Morris county in New Jersey.

The study is part of an RPA initiative supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to determine how health goals can be integrated nationwide into urban planning decisions. The project is a component  of RPA’s fourth regional plan, A Region Transformed, which will be released in 2017. The full State of the Region's Health report can be viewed here:

“For too long, we have failed to appreciate that problems such as high housing costs, segregation and inadequate public transit can have a tremendous impact on health,” said Tom Wright, President, Regional  Plan Association. “We know that we’re facing a future where our population will be older, technological change will reshape our economy and our communities will confront more threats from climate change. It’s imperative that urban planners and health professionals work together to address these challenges and ensure the success of our communities.”

“This project is an exciting first step in identifying how health considerations can be integrated into urban planning decisions,” said Mandu Sen, RPA senior planner and lead author of the study. "Major metropolitan areas will have to make significant investments in their infrastructure in the coming years, and maximizing the health benefits of these plans will help build a foundation for the well-being of all Americans."

As part of the project, RPA held a panel discussion today at the WNYC Greene Space. The event, moderated by Mary Harris, the host and managing editor of WNYC program Only Human, featured a discussion on how buildings, streets, housing, transportation systems, parks, access to jobs and other aspects of the physical environment affect health, and how urban planning can be used to improve health outcomes. Panelists included: Jo Ivey Boufford, MD, President, the New York Academy of Medicine; Daniel Hernandez, Deputy Commissioner, New York City Housing Preservation & Development; and Walter Barrientos, Lead Organizer, Make the Road New York. Watch the presentation and panel. 



Photo: Panelists at RPA's release event for State of the Region's Health at WNYC's Greene Space. Credit: Emily Thenhaus, RPA