John Libbey Eurotext

Environnement, Risques & Santé

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Urban planning and health: what role for residents of disadvantaged neighbourhoods in reducing inequalities? Lessons from a health impact assessment in the Paris area Volume 14, issue 4, Juillet-Août 2015

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Authors
CEARC – OVSQ
Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines
11, boulevard d’Alembert
78280 Guyancourt
France
* Tirés à part
  • Key words: environmental justice, equity, HIA (health impact assessment), community participation, urban design
  • DOI : 10.1684/ers.2015.0791
  • Page(s) : 327-36
  • Published in: 2015

Major city planning projects sometimes draw strong public opposition and attract media attention. When they concern disadvantaged neighbourhoods, however, their residents are barely audible or even present. Yet, involving local communities makes sense politically and may result in project designs that consider social and environmental equity, as they do not today.

The urban planning sector has increasingly implemented the health impact assessment (HIA) studies promoted by WHO to improve decision making and encourage positive health behaviours. We conducted an experimental HIA for a major city-planning project in a historically disadvantaged neighbourhood. It focused on two major health issues: 1) cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes, and 2) mental health. To identify the mechanisms of inequality at work in the area, we concurrently conducted a field survey among residents, asking about their perceptions of their living conditions, understood broadly.

This experience underlines the importance of using a democratic approach to place people at the center of the process as full participants in the project, an approach that meets an important goal of HIAs: to support health promotion and the reduction of inequalities. The neighborhood survey allowed us to identify (or confirm) potential pathways for improving the communities’ involvement in the city project. Other approaches that increase empowerment may be considered and combined with the HIA process. Actions to reduce inequality may well imply supporting communities in organising themselves, participating in the public debate, and adopting a more positive view of their role and place in their living environment.