More on Urban Design and Health

This example comes from the Daily Journal of Commerce in Portland, Oregon.  The article, headlined “Can Street Layout Affect Residents’ Health,” talks specifically about the problem posed by emergency vehicles getting to residential destinations in the Powellhurst-Gilbert neighborhood.

Photo: Portland Ground, Pictures of Portland Oregon
Photo: Portland Ground, Pictures of Portland Oregon

I haven’t been to the neighborhood, but the article describes it as having typical post-war design–a street system lacking connectivity with plenty of cul-de-sacs and dead ends.  This caused a problem recently when emergency vehicles couldn’t reach the scene of a shooting resulting in the death of a high school student.

New Urbanists and public safety departments have been at odds for years, with the latter insisting on wide residential roads and generous, rounded corners to accommodate large fire trucks.   Planners aren’t excited about the ramifications this has for street life and the pedestrian experience.  Streets become too wide, automobile traffic goes too fast, and sidewalks are sacrificed by developers to meet the zoning and infrastructure requirements for emergency vehicles.

The incident in Powellhurst-Gilbert suggests that old-style suburbia also has some problems.

In keeping with the study I referenced earlier, Powellhurst-Gilbert also was found to have issues relating to obesity that have been linked to the neighborhood’s urban design.  What is hopeful from the article is that city officials are looking at ways to change policy and seem to have the support of neighbors–something that is often lacking in other urban and suburban contexts.