Built Environment 101

The built environment is a term used to describe the man-made objects or spaces that form a community. These can include buildings, roads, sidewalks, parks, schools, work sites, and homes. It can also encompass services provided to a community, such as public transportation, water, and sanitation.

How are the built environment and health connected?

The built environment impacts the health of the public by creating spaces that either promote or prevent good health and well-being (Design for Health, 2017).

The built environment can...

  • Influence rates of physical activity through community design efforts like planning for sidewalks.
  • Impact levels of fruit and vegetable consumption through development.
  • Limit human exposure to air pollutants through land use planning. 

Public health experts are working with planners, developers, engineers, and transportation authorities, among others to intentionally design communities in ways that advance health equity, prevent disease, and improve overall health (NACCHO, 2017).


What is equity?

Harris County Public Health (HCPH) defines health equity as a state in which every person has the opportunity to attain their full health potential and no one is disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of socioeconomic or environmental conditions. One example would be providing individuals with a bicycle that meets their needs rather than providing the same bike to everyone.


How does Public Health create change?

Public Health takes a Health in All Policies approach to improving population health by providing key decision-makers with research, analysis, and recommendations for incorporating health considerations into the decision-making process across sectors and policy areas.

HiAP is a collaborative approach to improving population health by incorporating health considerations into decision-making across sectors and policy areas. The goal of HiAP is to ensure that all decision-makers are informed about the health consequences of various policy options during the policy development process. (NACCHO 2017)


Figure 2: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Healthy Community Design Principles and Benefits (CDC)


  1. Design for Health. (2017, November). Integrating Health into Comprehensive Planning. Retrieved from Resources: http://designforhealth.net/integrating-health-into-comprehensive-planning/
  2. National Association of County and City Health Officials. (2017, November). Healthy Community Design. Retrieved from Programs: Community Health: https://www.naccho.org/programs/community-health/healthy-community-design
  3. Adapted from: Public Health Institute. (2013). Health in All Policies: A Guide for State and Local Government. Retrieved from http://www.phi.org/resources/?resource=hiapguide
  4. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017, November). Healthy Community Design Checklist Toolkit. Retrieved from Healthy Places: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyplaces/toolkit/