Healthy Urbanism in Polluted Cities



Colleagues at USC Environmental Health Centers are putting together a 1-day conference titled Parks, Pollution, and Obesity. I’ve been awarded a USC Architecture Graduate Research Scholar grant to work with this group to bridge between the public health researchers and landscape architects and urbanists. The premise is as follows.

Awareness among landscape architects, urban designers, and urbanists of the need for green spaces to promote physical activity and combat obesity is high and provision of recreational opportunities in park-poor communities is perceived as an unmitigated good. The adverse health consequences of breathing polluted air is likewise well known, but generally assumed to apply to respiratory diseases such as asthma and lung cancer. Recent research, however, has documented that exposure to air pollution can result directly in increased propensity for obesity, through exposure to particulates and chemicals that disrupt metabolism and promote fat accumulation (McConnell et al. 2016). Air pollution is also linked epidemiologically with diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Urbanists therefore face a challenge of balancing the benefits of a landscape that promotes activity and provides green space in park-poor neighborhoods, and the adverse impacts of exposure to air pollution, which is exacerbated during exercise. Planners and designers need high-quality information to guide location and attributes of green spaces if the benefits are to outweigh the harms.

MLA student Nina Mross will be working with us as a Graduate Research Scholar to review the efforts made within landscape architecture and urbanism to address air quality concerns, describe case studies of such efforts, and illustrate the best practices that arise from the April conference.


McConnell, R., F. Gilliland, M. Goran, H. Allayee, A. Hricko, and S. Mittelman. 2016. Does near-roadway air pollution contribute to childhood obesity? Pediatric Obesity 11:1–3.