Increasingly, the evidence is becoming clear to public health officials that the built environment plays a major role in our behavior and health. Street scenes like the one below, unremarkable because they are so ubiquitous, are part of a built environment that is estimated to influence as much as 20% of our public health outcomes (the New England Health Care Institute).
A local government has a duty to safeguard the ‘health, safety and general welfare’ of the community. When we understand the connections to health outcomes and the built environment, adding sidewalks can no longer be viewed simply as an “amenity” to be carried out when it’s convenient. Building a complete sidewalk network, and maintaining it, is a necessity of any streets investment and we must highly scrutinize projects to ensure we are moving in that direction with a sense of urgency.