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The Built Environment and Health

Without us realizing it, the buildings, streets, and open space that make up our communities – the built environment – shape our lives, our social relationships, our behavior and especially our health. Heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, asthma, injuries and violence have all been linked to the places where people live and work, the distance between these places, and how people get from one place to another.

The Built Environment Program works with a variety of partners including city staff, elected officials, community organizations, schools and residents. Together, we help plan cities and neighborhoods that improve health and quality of life for residents of all income levels by reducing traffic injuries, community violence, and exposure to toxins, and promoting physical activity and access to healthy food.

The Built Environment Program aims to accomplish these goals by addressing:

  • Injuries:
    Auto-centric neighborhoods expose pedestrians, bicyclists and others to car crashes—the leading cause of unintentional injury death.
  • Physical Activity:
    Many places in Contra Costa County do not have infrastructure that promotes physical activity (such as complete streets, sidewalks, bike lanes and parks), thus contributing to diabetes, chronic diseases and obesity.
  • Nutrition and Food Security:
    Contra Costa County has 4.66 times as many fast food restaurants and convenience stores as grocery stores and produce vendors, making it difficult for many residents to eat a healthy diet.
  • Tobacco:
    Secondhand smoke makes many public spaces and multifamily housing units toxic, exposing even non-smokers to lung cancer and heart disease.
  • Lead Poisoning:
    In many older neighborhoods, lead dust from older homes hurts many parts of the body—particularly the growing brains and nervous systems of young children.
  • Climate Change:
    We recently identified health impacts of climate change in the county's draft Climate Action Plan. As part of that process, we also analyzed the ways in which actions taken to prevent further climate change can immediately improve people's health, a positive side-effect known as a health "co-benefit." We've also created maps showing where rising temperatures and sea levels will have the most impact in Contra Costa County.