Health and Exposure Impacts in the Built Environment

This page last reviewed May 6, 2016

smart growthThe World Health Organization defines “health” as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease. Healthy communities provide access to essential needs such as housing, food, transportation and recreation while providing sufficient public safety, which creates a robust sense of community that allows individuals to reach their full potential. The built environment, the human-made space in which people live, work and play, is a major contributor to the overall health of a community and its members. For example, access to parks, highly connected street networks, wide sidewalks and protected bike lanes in mixed use neighborhoods have been found to encourage walking and biking for recreation and transportation. This increase in physical activity can substantially improve public health.    

The California Air Resource's Board (ARB) is tasked with overseeing the implementation of The California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32), which requires that California reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008 (SB 375) was passed to help achieve this goal through coordinated transportation and land use planning. Included in these community designs are strategies to increase the use of active transportation options such as walking or biking, or public transit instead of relying on individual fossil fuel–powered vehicles.

Public Health, the Built Environment and Sustainability Research

ARB’s research program includes studies on how community designs and various built environment features can be effective in reducing the levels of air pollution exposure. These studies are designed to provide information that planners can use to improve the public health of our communities by reducing air pollution and promoting active transportation and sustainability. In addition, ARB is actively engaged in sustainable communities research that can help California reduce production of greenhouse gases while helping our cities adapt to the impacts of climate change. Click here to learn more about ARB’s Sustainable Communities Research Program.

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Additional Resources


For more information about Health and the Built Environment, contact Dr. Barbara Weller at (916) 324-4816.