Impact Assessments- Are they useful to planners?

To follow up on the last blog post, here I will discuss a tool that I find is very important (though relatively new) to the field of planning: Impact Assessments. I have linked my Prezi here, so you can get a bit of a sense where I am coming from, as well as some of the resources I used.

On the “What is Planning” page of The American Planner’s Association website, the first paragraph states:

Planning, also called urban planning or city and regional planning, is a dynamic profession that works to improve the welfare of people and their communities by creating more convenient, equitable, healthful, efficient, and attractive places for present and future generations.

Healthy communities. How else can a community survive and thrive, whilst remaining sustainable past generations? While this may sound like a bold statement to make, please remember this is my personal opinion, and I do invite you to comment further and provide resources too! In my work over the years I have developed some questions that helped to guide my presentation as well as serve for further research purposes. These main questions are as follows:

  1. Why is healthy planning seen to be mostly a job for public health officials?
  2. If APA and CDC recognize need, why has it not become more of a priority amongst planners and policymakers?
  3. Should planners focus on the health of communities/environment when they develop their analysis and recommendations?
  4. What is being done to set the standards for all planners to make sure that health is a major consideration for every plan they develop and put forth?

The American Planner’s Association website states on its Health Impact Assessments page:

In practice, an HIA is part of a systematic approach to identifying the differential health impacts of proposed and implemented policies, programs, and projects within an equitable, sustainable, and ethical framework…The HIA is a valuable tool that can be used to integrate health into the decision-making process and enhance communication between multiple stakeholders, including health and planning practitioners and policymakers.

Despite this statement, I feel that planners are not being trained adequately to prepare plans that are not only sustainable, but with the health of people and ecology at the forefront. Although APA recommends the use of Health Impact Assessments or HIAs, most planners are not being prepared to use Impact Assessments unless they are also pursuing a policy degree at their accredited university. For further information on Impact Assessments, visit The Different Types of Healthy Assessments, and on Health Impact Assessments you can partake in the CDC free online training course for planners to learn how to administer HIAs! To get you started, here’s a neat 2 page HIA-Fact-Sheet!

Much of planning history has developed because of the responses needed to remedy certain building or health issues that we humans caused. I do believe the tides are turning and the field is beginning its stages of planning for the future, but overall there needs to be more preventive planning rather than reactive. I recently met with a person that works at the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, who originated in the public policy field but ended up working in educational and policy planning. I asked her about the use of Impact Assessments at PVPC, and she said they have used them before for certain ecological or community health projects. Like me, she believes they could be a greater resource to planners and policy analysts if used consistently; not all planners and policy analysts are using them, and furthermore there is no uniform recipe for how to create an assessment. While there are guidelines, only some factors are strictly enforced (more so for the Environmental Impact Assessments).

One paper published from the Department of Health Policy and Management at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health writes about Model Curriculum for HIAs that can be introduced to graduate universities. I think this is a great resource that proves officials are seeing more and more the importance of Impact Assessments. PEW Charitable Trusts has an entire site dedicated to upcoming projects and trainings that utilize health impact assessments for both public health officials and community developers, and here you can access many Toolkits and Data Resources. In my research, though I have not dissected its entirety, I have found this paper from the EPA website, A Review of Health Impact Assessments in the US, to offer an analysis of HIAs and their practicality, as well as areas for improvement.

I am positive I will write more on this in the future since it is one of my passions, but for now I hope you find the many resources I posted to be of help! I am happy to see that there are other planners and officials out there that see the value in using Impact Assessments for future policy and planning work, and I hope to see more efforts to make HIAs become part of standard training.

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