Health indicators represent composite organismal, ecological and community well-being. In Southern California environmental damage and its causes are fundamental drivers of public health degradation. Broken linkages in environmental systems that would otherwise mitigate these drivers are hardened in policy and in the built fabric of metropolitan sprawl.
This environmental degradation sits also within a complex web of relationships across other drivers that have collectively triggered widespread long-term human health challenges. Food and transportation systems conspire with other cultural causes to exacerbate environmentally causal vulnerability to disease. Among the most obvious, obesity rates have recently tripled among California teens and quadrupled among pre-teens. Three quarters of California children cannot pass the standard school fitness test.
In large part, these obesity figures stem directly from diet and poverty. Many health activists have focused on revisions to the farm bill as a means of improving the American diet. Transportation development and land use conversion conspire to drive sprawling poverty and polarizing wealth. Vehicle-dependent transportation infrastructure has hardened the lines of poverty drawn by policy and unregulated aspects of the economy. Truck traffic on the interstate corridors and highways of the regional logistics empire has added further health risks. Through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach pass 70% of the U.S. Pacific coast cargo. Container-hauling trucks burning nano-particulate diesel fuel pass from the ports and the Ontario area into and through neighborhoods, raising cancer and asthma risks and creating safety risks. Unknown and unknowable disease vectors may also be moving on this infrastructure.
While expansive and rapid change confound global and politics national policy, local policy, planning, and design initiatives have examined ever-more expansive, cross-cutting health measures. As sprawl meets nature in Southern California, for example (as well as in emerging countries across the globe) habitat fragmentation is exacerbated by climate change. Emerging ‘one health’ initiatives, which link ecosystem health and biodiversity with resilience to zoonotic disease transmission across domesticated animal and human health, provide one critical transdisciplinary approach to these wicked problems.
At the local scale, food deserts are being greened by food access and production programs and projects that promote active living. These include open space and green street access for pedestrians and bicyclists and via transit to an array of needed services including health and child care. Such integrative approaches seen, for example, in combinations of local food, affordable housing, transit-oriented development, and park and bicycle initiatives also restore other environmental linkages.
The Redford Conservancy supports discourse and research, engagement and demonstration projects that provide integrative strategies to address fundamental problems of public health across scales and systems. Solutions that also encourage environmental mitigation and adaptation underlie of Conservancy-sponsored academic discourse. Locally the Conservancy supports engaged projects through research and design activism to provide access to health services, to promote affordable transgenerational housing and active living environments, and to produce healthy affordable food.