Toward the Health City: People, places and the politics of Urban Planning, by Jason Corburn

Book review by Daniel Fuller

Toward the Healthy City is a book that is of interest to academics, community leaders and interested citizens. Jason Corburn is well read in urban planning and public health literatures making this book relevant for both fields. The first chapters of the book offer a critical review of the historical relationship between urban planning and public health. The early connection, disconnection in the 1930’s and current courting between urban planning and public health are discussed. Corburn skillfully discusses the relationship between founding documents in health promotion such as the Ottawa Charter and seminal works in urban planning such as Jane Jacob’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities. He concludes that although urban planning and public health are once again starting to work together urban planners and public health researchers must overcome institutional norms and reconnect with their social justice roots in order to address the social determinants of health.

The second chapters address the relationship between present day city planning processes and public health. The strength of this section is the focus on the process of planning and not the outcome. The question is not the impact of implementing a light rail system but rather the process that lead to implementation. The chapters underscore the potential disparate nature of the health promotion ideals and the practical aspects of city planning. While at the same time offer practical solutions for researchers and community groups who work with city planners.

The final section uses case studies as examples of community participation and healthy urban planning. The first outlines how community involvement along with health city planning perspective lead to the clean up of a large naval shipyard and the creation of a local food system in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood in San Francisco. The second outlines partnerships between the San Francisco public health department and community organizations to re-evaluate the demolition of rent-controlled housing to create market rate condominiums. Of interest community groups defined health places, ‘A health place is one that helps people recover when they are down, and not just those living there, but visitors too.’ The case studies in Toward the Healthy City focus heavily on the benefits of community participation and health impact assessments.

In sum, Toward the Healthy City is of interest to multiple groups of readers for it’s critical overview of the historical relationship between urban planning and public health and community empowerment case studies.

Review published: September 2010

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