By Maria Archibald, Sustainability Office
“When it comes to health, our zip code matters more than our genetic code,” says Dr. Andy Hong, assistant professor in the Department of City and Metropolitan Planning and director of the Healthy Aging and Resilient Places Lab at the University of Utah.
The built environment plays a significant role in shaping our health and wellbeing, says Hong. In fact, modern city planning emerged as a response to cholera and other urban outbreaks at the turn of the 19th century.
On Tuesday, April 19 at 4 p.m., Hong will give a GCSC Seminar called “Rethinking Healthy Cities in a Post-Pandemic World.” His talk will examine the history of urban planning as a public health measure and explore future possibilities, particularly in the context of COVID-19 recovery.
While city planning is vital to supporting human health, it is also integral to building sustainable communities. Yet the balance between addressing environmental and public health concerns can be a delicate one.
“The COVID situation called for quick fixes, such as prioritizing hygiene over environmental protection,” says Hong, who points out how the urgent need to limit germ transmission in the early days of the pandemic led to an increase in single-use plastics. “As we are coming out of the pandemic there needs to be a better alignment between the sustainability agenda and the healthy city agenda, and my research is trying to find a balance between the two.”
Hong, who grew up in cities, was both fascinated by the possibilities they offer and intimately aware of their disadvantages. “I was exposed to all kinds of urban ills, from tailpipe emissions to noise to traffic hazards,” he says. “That’s how I got into the healthy city research and what motivated me to study the complexities and the interconnections between the built environment and health.”
Hong’s seminar will explore different approaches to healthy city planning, from nature-based solutions to age-friendly cities. He will pay particular attention to models that simultaneously prioritize human and environmental health. “I hope the audience understands that we need to pay attention, not only on the quick fixes, but also focus on the long-term solutions and systems thinking in order to build healthy and sustainable cities in the long term,” says Hong.
To learn more about healthy city planning in a post-pandemic world, register and attend Hong’s GCSC Seminar on Tuesday, April 19 at 4 p.m.