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Photo: Mark Strozier / Istock

A new four-part series on PBS focuses on the link between land use and public health. Scheduled to air this year, the series, titled “Designing Healthy Communities,” looks at the impact our built environment has on key public health indices – obesity, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, cancer and depression. Narrator Dr. Richard Jackson connects bad community design with burgeoning health costs, then analyzes and illustrates what citizens are doing about this urgent crisis by looking upstream for innovative solutions. He argues that our society’s declining public health is directly linked to bad land use design.

The series is divided into four episodes, each of which looks at the different aspects of our built environment, how they have affected our health, and what is being done about it. The four parts will include:

  • Retrofitting Suburbia, which will address health problems like obesity and diabetes
  • Rebuilding Places of the Heart, on reviving our older downtowns
  • Social Policy in Concrete, addressing the particular risks faced by low-income communities
  • Searching for Shangri-La, exploring whether there are “ideal” healthy communities

Dr. Jackson is a pediatrician, the former CDC head of environmental science, top public health official in California, and current UCLA Department Chair and Professor of Environmental Health Sciences in the School of Public Health. The crux of his argument is that over the past half century, built environment has contributed to the alarming fact that almost two thirds of our population is overweight, suffering from diabetes, heart, asthma, depression and other chronic diseases. He urges the view to look at the causes–obeisance to the automobile, lack of public transportation, parks, sidewalks, bike paths, multi-use housing, and community sense of well-being–we discover that the built environment threatens our future generations.

Previews of each episode can be viewed online, and they’re well worth your time. Check your local PBS listings for information on when the full shows will be on television in your area.

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