The built environment refers to man-made surroundings that provide a setting for human activity which includes buildings, parks, green space, trails, transportation systems, neighborhoods and cities. Green space creation and preservation are better achieved by acquisition rather than through regulatory constraints. Outright acquisitions of significant green spaces can create recreational amenities and help preserve biodiversity. Conclusively, parks and green space offers a range of health benefits and they provide settings for physical activity and social interaction.
- Protected green spaces and parks enhance surrounding land values and can reduce the visual blight of unmitigated sprawling business and residential development. Protected green spaces, particularly metropolitan area parks, are able to support a variety of recreational activities and can also act as a focal point for more vital social, political, and market activity.
- Municipal parks that are well maintained often act as a magnet, attracting more concentrated forms of mixed-use development. These parks provide an amenity often missing from the sprawl landscape.
- Transportation infrastructure forms the connective tissue that links buildings, neighborhoods, and parks together and represents an integral part of the built environment. Equity concerns in transportation include how transportation infrastructure, such as highways and bus depots, are normally located near to locally undesirable land use (LULU) sites. Poor people and people of color disproportionately live near these LULUs and suffer health consequences such as the effects of diesel air pollution, noise, injury risks, and ugliness. There are some transportation systems that do not provide poor people with convenient, practical access to employment, medical care, and other necessities that undermine their health in many ways.
- The nation faces a shortage of housing; housing is unaffordable for many low-wealth families; and much of the available housing, especially rental stock, is substandard. Substandard housing is clearly bad for health, posing risks that range from lead poisoning to respiratory disease.
- Low-income and poor children who reside in substandard housing, with such features as rat infestations, leaks, holes in walls and floors, and lack of heat, water, and/or functioning toilets, are at an increased risk of emotional disorders and other health problems.
- In low-wealth neighborhoods where members of minority groups disproportionately live, junk food, soda, and cigarettes are readily available in small markets and neighborhood ‘mom and pop stores’. Meanwhile, grocery stores that sell fresh foods are scarce and/or expensive; diabetics have a hard time finding appropriate foods; restaurants are unlikely to serve fresh fruits and vegetables; and liquor stores are common. These environmental factors matter and they help explain why people who live in poor neighborhoods eat less healthy diets than the general population.