Public health has influenced city planners and their predecessors for centuries. The decisions to separate residential from industrial uses, develop sewage infrastructure, and create parks, for instance, all stem from the need to keep people physically and mentally healthy. Our policies or zoning laws or planning practices can all be traced back to public health, in some form or another.
However, the problem that concerns us, which we’ll attempt to address in this studio, is one of equity, because while city planning may be a construction of public health, we can’t confidently say that all residents have reaped the benefits of public health planning equally.
Through the lens of health equity, we look to Brownsville.
Surveys and interviews of Brownsville residents reveal a community rich with assets. The residents of Brownsville are well serviced by public transit; the public housing, though badly in need of city, state, and federal investment, houses a large portion of the community; and the informal networks and cultural capital are perhaps stronger here than anywhere else. Many of Brownsville’s residents grew up in the neighborhood, and they know their neighbors well.
Brownsville residents also have a life expectancy of 74 years, which is 11 years less than residents of Murray Hill, Financial District, and the Upper East Side. Of all 59 community districts, Brownsville’s community district 16 ranks top 5 in premature mortality rate, infant mortality rate, pre-term births, psychiatric hospitalizations, avoidable diabetes hospitalizations, non-fatal assault hospitalizations, and alcohol- and drug-related hospitalizations.
A lot is already being done to address these issues. In conjunction with local businesses and nonprofits, innovative partnerships across city, state, and federal agencies are already providing Brownsville with best-in-class services. This studio takes into account ongoing projects and research, as well as best practices in cities across the globe.
Our report consists of a thorough analysis of the needs of Brownsville residents, and outlines interventions that can improve public health outcomes in the short, medium and long-term.
We believe that zip code should not be an indicator of public health. We believe that just as there are cycles poverty, there are also cycles of public health, and the sooner we as civic thinkers intervene with place-based solutions, the sooner we can make a real difference in our neighborhoods