Health Benefits Ahead - Health Impact Assessment Recommends Fast Track for Proposed Atlanta BeltLine Development Project

Using a health impact assessment to evaluate the potential impact of a major transportation land use project in Atlanta

From 2005 to 2007, Georgia Institute of Technology's Center for Quality Growth and Regional Development worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to create a health impact assessment for the Atlanta BeltLine project, a 25-year plan to convert a 22-mile loop of largely abandoned freight rail right-of-way to parks, trails, transit, and residential and commercial developments.

Health impact assessments employ a variety of methods and approaches to identify and measure the potential health impacts, both positive and negative, that may result from a particular policy or project.

Key Findings: The researchers reported their findings in a 227-page report, Atlanta Beltline: Health Impact Assessment Catherine L. Ross, Ph.D., the principal investigator, concluded that several health benefits can be realized through an integrated BeltLine project, including:

  • Increase physical activity. The BeltLine's parks, trails and transit can play an important role in increasing opportunities for daily physical activity, through exercise or via daily utilitarian activities, such as walking or biking to work or transit.
  • Improve "social capital" by:
    • Preserving existing neighborhoods.
    • Creating places for formal and informal social interactions.
    • Embracing an inclusive public participation process.
  • Improve access to health-promoting goods, services and amenities, including parks and trails, transit, housing and healthy food.

Key Recommendations: In another report, The Atlanta Beltline will improve community health, but will it happen soon enough?, the project team made the following priority recommendations:

  • The BeltLine will promote good health. Not only should it go forward, but it should be fast tracked to realize the health benefits sooner.
  • Integrate the promotion of good health throughout the BeltLine decision-making, design and implementation phases by:
    • Appointing public health professionals, such as officials from the public health department, to the boards responsible for planning and implementing the BeltLine.
    • Making health protection and promotion an explicit goal in BeltLine funding decisions and implementation priorities.
    • Enhancing the development review process to explicitly include health considerations, especially those related to physical activity, social capital and safety.
  • Ensure that affordable and healthy housing is provided throughout the BeltLine and establish programs and partnerships to address residential displacement.
  • Add more park acres and create better connected and more accessible parks, especially in the southwest planning area.

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