Built Environment Program


Our Mission

Our mission is to promote health and wellness through environments where individuals live, learn, work, worship, and play in Harris County, Texas. 

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

Studies show the built environment affects human health. For example, it can influence rates of physical activity, impact levels of fruit and vegetable consumption, and change human exposure to air pollutants. As a result, public health experts are now working with planners, developers, engineers, and transportation authorities to help design our communities in a way that prevents disease and improves health.

For more information contact:

Harris County Public Health
Built Environment Program
(713) 274-6300 
Main Switchboard: 
(713) 439-6000
[email protected].

For climate and health education, projects, and information, visit the Climate Program.

Program Goals

The Built Environment (BE) Unit was launched in January 2015, as part of an effort to address health through policy and decision making processes in Harris County, Texas. Learn more about the BE Unit's objectives below.

Our Goals

To address health through the built environment, the BE Unit aims to:

  • Increase access to healthy communities and environments
  • Conduct Health Impact Assessments (HIA) and/or rapid needs assessments to examine and mitigate health risk through policy, planning, and development decisions
  • Inform and make recommendations to decision-makers about how to improve health through updates and changes to policies and plans related to the built environment
  • Support cross-sector collaboration to build capacity and share information regarding best practices for healthy community design
  • Utilize Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to map health data and conduct spatial analysis
  • Engage the community to build local knowledge and support opportunities to facilitate change that promotes health equity
  • Provide technical assistance to communities and agencies interested in improving the built environment and/or conducting an HIA 
  • Protect the health of Harris County residents from the effects of climate change by utilizing local climate science, expanding climate and health communications, and building community resilience
  • Demonstrate the value of integrating health into planning, design, and development projects


Click each section below to see a brief description and additional information on BE Unit Projects.

Health Impact Reviews (HIRs)

The Health Impact Review (HIR) is a structured tool used to review plans, policies, or projects during the draft phase. HIRs bring together data and community feedback to provide evidence-based health and equity information to decision makers. HIRs are scalable and adaptable to a wide-range of projects impacting health. The BE Unit works with partners at the County, local jurisdictions, nonprofits, and local organizations on a variety of projects, ranging from flood control to bicycle planning all in the effort to mitigate negative health impacts and maximize health benefits.

Health Impact Assessments
East Aldine and City of Pasadena Health Impact Assessments

In partnership with East Aldine and the city of Pasadena, the BE Unit received a grant from the Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts, with funding from the Episcopal Health Foundation. The project aimed to examine the impacts of East Aldine proposed town center and the city of Pasadena’s proposal to update residential ordinances. The reports identify solutions to reduce any negative health effects and optimize beneficial health outcomes. Click on the communities below for the full report.

East Aldine
City of Pasadena

Safe Crossings Project

The Safe Crossings Project was led by the BE Unit with funding from the Urban Land Institute (ULI). The project aimed to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety by identifying improvements to streets and intersections that pose a risk for increased injury in East Aldine and the city of Galena Park. The report provides recommendations that serve as a conceptual vision for the community to spur dialogue around safe active transportation among East Aldine and Galena Park decision-makers as the communities grow. Click on the communities below for the full report.

East Aldine
City of Galena Park

View a storytelling visual with maps and photos in the Safe Crossings Project Story Map.

Safe Routes to Parks (SRTP)
Baytown Safe Routes to Parks

The BE Unit conducted assessments of the walking environment around five Baytown parks using HCPH's Environmental Scan Tool (EST) and the park usage metrics by utilizing the System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities (SOPRAC) combined with behavioral mapping techniques.

The full report is currently in progress and will be completed by the end of 2021.

Safe Routes to School (SRTS) Plan

Pasadena Safe Routes to School Plan

Spearheaded by Healthy Living Matters (HLM), the Pasadena Safe Routes to School (SRTS) plan was developed to identify strategies to increase walking and biking to school and increase physical activity levels and health of students. The BE Unit conducted an assessment of the walking environment around the 7 priority schools using HCPH’s Environmental Scan Tool (EST). The development of this plan was supported by Pasadena Vibrant Community, an initiative of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, made possible by an investment from and collaboration with Shell Oil. The full Pasadena SRTS Plan can be found here. Find out more about the status of this plan here.

Baytown Safe Routes to School Plan

The purpose of the Baytown Safe Routes to School (SRTS) plan was to provide recommendations and a guide for Goose Creek Consolidated Independent School District (GCCISD), the City of Baytown, parents, educators, and community members in their efforts to create safe, convenient, and fun opportunities for children to bike and walk to and from school. In 2019, Harris County Public Health (HCPH) embarked on a year-long effort with the support of the Be Well Baytown Steering Committee and GCCISD faculty and staff to develop the Baytown SRTS plan for six priority elementary schools - with the goal of making it easier, safer, and more inviting for students and their families to walk or bike to and from school. The full Baytown SRTS plan can be found here.

Climate Program

The BE Unit launched the Climate Program in 2019. The Climate Program aims to protect the health of Harris County residents from the effects of climate change by applying the core functions of public health.

Learn more about the Climate Program here.

Built Environment Toolkit

The BE Unit has developed a Built Environment Toolkit that guides organizations, planners, public officials, and public health practitioners through understanding of Health Impact Assessments (HIA) and rapid Health Impact Reviews (HIR). The team can also provide expertise and guidance on initiating HIAs or HIRs in your community or project plans by contacting the BE Unit at the email or phone number listed above.