Linking public health and community design through green infrastructure
MetadataShow full item record
The link between community design and public health has gained prominence in recent years as solutions are sought for chronic health problems attributed, in part, to environmental conditions and physical inactivity. In response to these intersecting challenges, the connectivity of a green infrastructure system may offer a dynamic solution toward healthy community design in providing opportunities for increased levels of physical activity. This dissertation explores how green infrastructure can work to bridge planning and public health concerns through physical activity at the municipal scale. Using qualitative comparative case study methods, green infrastructure for physical activity is explored through existing policies, infrastructure, and strategies for implementation in four cities known for ‘green’ initiatives – Austin, Texas; Denver, Colorado; Louisville, Kentucky; and Portland, Oregon. My primary research question focuses on how green infrastructure can serve as a bridge between planning and public health to realize infrastructure that provides for human physical activity at the municipal scale. Through a lens of critical pragmatism, three sources of data comprise the investigation through a normative framework: 1) Review and evaluation of municipal comprehensive plans and functional master plans for parks, stormwater management, and green infrastructure/greenprinting; 2) a content analysis of a significant project in each city utilizing two audit tools for post-occupancy evaluation in terms of non-motorized modes for connectivity, integration, and multi-functionality; and 3) forty-four semi-structured interviews with agency staff, professional consultants, and developers participating in the process at the project and municipal levels. Emerging patterns from analysis were then compared across the four cities. Findings suggest projects demonstrate connectivity in complete and well-connected routes for both pedestrian and bicycle circulation, yet the politics of maintenance challenge innovative solutions. Broad goals of municipal plans were not easily translated into project implementation, while public health involvement for the projects was intent on removal of environmental contaminants from previous land uses. The power of these innovative projects to test the regulatory framework with ecological infrastructure solutions reveals the complexities of overlapping jurisdictional agencies and disciplinary interests. The use of storytelling and project precedents serve an important role in understanding the ‘messiness’ of navigating through the regulatory process, and combined with technical knowledge provide a knowledge–action–knowledge sequence to advance both green infrastructure theory and practice. This research highlights the emerging opportunities for incorporating normative values of health through urban ecological infrastructure. It illustrates the collaborative roles of key participants and their successes in crossing disciplinary boundaries to pursue collaborative strategies for multi-functional landscapes that can provide an array of health benefits, including physical activity. The incorporation of health in planning and design and the interaction with public health interests are key components to the future of ecosystem services.