Online Program

Urban Forestry and Community Health: A Health in All Policies Approach to Urban Forest Management

Monday, November 2, 2015

Meliha Aljabar, Department of Urban Affairs and Planning, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Washington, DC
Research regarding the relationship between the physical environment and community health is building.  Green infrastructure in urban communities has been noted for its human health benefits, including: cleaning air and water, promoting physical activity, moderating climate and improving mental health.  However, access to such ecosystem services often varies within cities, reflecting a dimension of urban health disparities and environmental injustice.

This study examines the spatial relationships among forestry, community health and socioeconomic status in Baltimore, Maryland to inform a “Health in all Policies” approach to local planning and policy-making.

This study utilizes Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to assess the relationship at the scale of the Community Statistical Area (CSA).  Data sources include: 2010 CSA boundary and tree canopy GIS shape-files (City of Baltimore), household income (U.S. Census Bureau), and health outcome statistics (City of Baltimore “2011 Neighborhood Health Profiles”).

Data were adapted in GIS to the scale of the CSA.  Each CSA was ranked independently on indicators of tree canopy, socioeconomic status and health; then were combined to develop an “Urban Forest Prioritization” map, which highlights CSAs with low tree canopy coverage, poor health status and low socioeconomic status.

Based on preliminary findings, low tree canopy coverage, low median household income and poor health status appear to be correlated.  Therefore in Baltimore, poorer and less healthy neighborhoods have fewer forest resources. 

The findings may be used to inform local policy and decisions that do not typically utilize health data, such as the urban forest management plan, comprehensive and neighborhood plans, and transportation and capital improvement plans and policies.

Learning Areas:

Environmental health sciences
Other professions or practice related to public health
Public health or related laws, regulations, standards, or guidelines
Public health or related public policy

Learning Objectives:
Analyze and describe the spatial relationships of urban tree canopy, community health and socioeconomic indicators of a community using Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Name local environmental policies and programs that can utilize health indicators to better inform their directives. Identify and discuss an environmental issue area in which public health professionals, urban planners, foresters or natural resource managers and policymakers can collaborate to find solutions.

Keyword(s): Urban Health, Environmental Justice

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am a student of Urban and Regional Planning with a concentration in Environmental Planning. I work full time as an urban planner, specializing in park, open space and natural resources planning. Among my academic interests is the relationship between the physical environment (built and natural) and community health, with a special interest in health equity and environmental justice.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.