The American Lung Association’s Urban Planning Push

As one of the smoggiest areas of the country considers its next steps for urban planning, the association says that officials in California's San Joaquin Valley could save money—and lives—by focusing on development that encourages residents to walk more and drive less.

Fighting smoking. Preventing lung diseases. Promoting walkable neighborhoods?

If it sounds a little odd that the American Lung Association (ALA) suddenly has become interested in urban-planning issues in California’s San Joaquin Valley, don’t fret—there’s a smart, long-term strategy here.

See, the region, which includes the cities of Fresno and Bakersfield, has some of the worst air-quality problems in the country, and according to a new series of reports from the association, efforts to create more walkable community areas could help save hundreds of millions of dollars in health costs over the next two decades by cutting down on air pollution and promoting healthier lifestyles. In other words: Fewer cars, more walking and public transit.

The “Public Health Crossroads” reports—which focus on Kern [PDF], Fresno [PDF], and San Joaquin [PDF] counties—recommend that the state implements strategies recommended by the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act (SB 375), a 2008 California law that set goals for cutting down on the level of greenhouse gas emissions from passenger vehicles. The counties are currently considering growth strategies, the Central Valley Business Times notes.

Among the benefits that ALA cites in its studies:

  • A savings of at least $415 million in health-related costs by 2035 across the San Joaquin Valley
  • A decrease of 2,490 lost work days between Kern, Fresno, and San Joaquin counties
  • A drop in asthma attacks and other respiratory health impacts by 14,499 across the three counties.

Each of the ALA reports argues that the area’s leaders could threaten the future health of residents by keeping current, car-heavy urban-development trends in place.

“San Joaquin Valley leaders have a choice,” the reports state. “They can set a new course for healthier development, or follow the past trend of inefficient growth that will cement asthma-causing traffic pollution, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other chronic illnesses into the fabric of our communities, and particularly into communities that can least afford it.”

As KERO-TV notes, at least some local developers are already on top of the issue, such as Bakersfield’s Woodbridge Pacific. And officials tell the Bakersfield Californian that they’ve already enacted some rules as a starting point, including a requirement that new developments must have sidewalks.

But the association’s goal is to underline that, ultimately, poor decisions now can cause big problems later.

“These are real impacts to families that will be affected by the choices that are being made today,” ALA Policy Manager Will Barrett told the Central Valley Business Times. “Choices are being made about the way their communities are being planned for the future.”


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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