Climate Justice: Understanding Differential Exposures to Environmental Hazards, Disparities in Climate-Health Outcomes, and Improving Equity in Planning and Design

June 2014

Persistent health disparities within American cities have often followed economic disparities and have led to continuing excess mortality and morbidity among African Americans and other people of color. The related problem of environmental injustice has often resulted in the concentration of physical and psychosocial hazards in low-income communities of color, as a long-term legacy of racism and decades of residential segregation. The recent growth in economic inequality in the United States has the potential to exacerbate environmental health disparities under a changing climate, as poverty is a fundamental risk modifier for extreme weather events (Rosenthal, 2010). A key question for urban planners and designers interested in social justice and in “resisting, mitigating, and undoing” the urban blight of segregation and racism for the creation of healthy communities is: what benefit do the practices of inclusive and community-based urban planning yield for reducing urban health disparities? This seminar brings together urban planning and design scholars with environmental health and social epidemiologists, and other public health actors, to explore questions around inclusion in the urban planning process (i.e., for land-use, urban design, and health), which include: how may participatory community-based planning reduce the systemic health disparities within American cities? Has this been demonstrated in practice? What are the models and best practices? Through what mechanisms might these practices improve long-standing disparities in urban health outcomes? As an inclusive public process, have community-based Health Impact Assessments succeeded in improving place-based social determinants of health and disparities in environmental health outcomes? How many other models, such as community benefits agreements, address differential exposures to environmental hazards and their associated urban health disparities?