Community Forum – “The Collision of Best Intentions: Public Health, Smart Growth and Urban Planning”

On April 9, 2014 the Southern California Environmental Health Sciences Center (SCEHSC), SC-Children’s Environmental Health Center (SC-CEHC) & National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) hosted “The Community Forum: The Collision of Best Intentions.” This 2.5 hour event was attended by approximately 150 individuals representing Los Angeles area community-based organizations (CBOs) and environmental justice (EJ) groups, NIEHS (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences) center directors from around the U.S. and staff of NIEHS Community Outreach and Engagement Core (COEC) programs, appointed park and planning commissioners, graduate students from UCLA’s Master’s in Urban Planning program and UCLA’s Community Scholars program, and interested community members.

The forum brought together stakeholders around environmental health issues, particularly concerns about air pollution’s impacts on health and the epidemic of childhood obesity. Through a series of short presentations, a foundation was set to help attendees understand:

  • The public health dilemma of incompatible land use decisions
  • How we can achieve physical activity and other health benefits from building transit-oriented development (TOD) while also considering near roadway air pollution
  • The need for considering public health as we develop community gardens, urban parks, more walkable streets and new bicycle lanes. 

Presenters and their topics included:

Welcoming comments:  Dr. Linda Birnbaum, Director of the NIEHS

What We Mean by the “Collision of Best Intentions: Andrea Hricko, Director of the Community Outreach and Engagement Program of the SCEHSC and Professor of Preventive Medicine at USC

Why Different Perspectives are Colliding: Maria Cabildo, co-founder and president of East LA Community Corporation, L.A. Planning Commission

Near Roadway Air Pollution, Asthma and Obesity: Challenges for Urban Planning: Rob McConnell, Deputy Director of the SCEHSC, Director of the SC-CEHC and Professor of Preventive Medicine at USC

Introduction to Case Studies from the Community: Kafi D. Blumenfield, president emeritus of the Liberty Hill Foundation and member of the Los Angeles City Recreation and Parks Commission

No Mitigations or Solutions are Perfect; Here are Some Approaches: Doug Houston, Assistant Professor of Planning, Policy & Design at the School for Social Ecology, University of California, Irvine

As primary organizers of the event, Andrea Hricko and Carla Truax of the SCEHSC & SC-CEHC invited 16 CBOs to participate in a Poster Session that showcased the work that each group is doing around environmental health issues in the greater Los Angeles area.  Midway through the event’s schedule, all participants were invited to view the posters which further engaged attendees and presenters in dialogue around these issues.

The following southern California organizations participated in the poster session:

Advocates4 Clean Air – El Marino
Asian Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance
Ballona Institute
Coalition for a Safe Environment
East LA Community Corporation
East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice
Environmental Health Coalition
Esperanza Community Housing Corporation
From Lot to Spot
Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust
Move L.A.
Pacoima Beautiful
Social Justice Learning Institute
Strategic Actions for a Just Economy
Streetsblog LA
T.R.U.S.T South LA
Urban & Environmental Policy Institute, Occidental College

The concluding portion of the event was the open microphone session, during which all attendees were given the opportunity to ask questions, give perspective and feedback and set the stage for continued dialogue, interaction and collaboration around environmental health, smart growth and urban planning issues.  Serving as moderator, Jean Armbruster, Director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health’s “PLACE Program” (Policies for Livable Active Communities and Environments), briefly summarized the presentations provided and guided participants into the open microphone session.  It proved to be a time for attendees to ask questions, provide thoughtful ideas (e.g., why not reduce the number of cars on certain streets near schools than worry about school set-backs?) – and it promised further engagement around the environmental health issues being highlighted throughout the event.

The Community Forum sponsors thank The California Wellness Foundation and The Kresge Foundation for additional funding.

Also see this summary article that includes the Community Forum: on the NIEHS Environmental Health Sciences Core Centers annual meeting, hosted by the University of Southern California (USC) April 7-9 in Los Angeles. 

James Merchant, MD, DrPH, awarded the Inaugural John Peters Lectureship

Dr. Tom Smith, left, and Dr. Jim Merchant spoke at the inaugural Jon Peters Lectureship.
Dr. Tom Smith, left, and Dr. Jim Merchant spoke at the inaugural Jon Peters Lectureship.

On April 8, James Merchant, MD, DrPH, was awarded the first annual John Peters Lectureship for outstanding contributions to environmental health sciences. Dr. Merchant is a professor of occupational and environmental health and served as the founding Dean of the University of Iowa College of Public Health from 1999 to 2008. He is a renowned expert on occupational and environmental health, rural health, and public health policy.

The John Peters Lectureship program was developed to continue the scientific legacy of groundbreaking epidemiologist and founding director of the Southern California Environmental Health Sciences Center, Dr. John Peters.

The inaugural lecture was presented at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles to 140 prominent members of the environmental health sciences community. In a skillfully crafted lecture, Dr. Merchant successfully merged a comprehensive overview of a generation of research on urban and rural asthma with anecdotal stories and heartfelt remarks about his longtime colleague and friend, Dr. Peters.

Dr. Merchant described research that began in Keokuk County, Iowa where he and his colleagues explored the respiratory impacts of agricultural and environmental exposures among  rural residents with a focus on childhood asthma.  He went on to describe asthma research in the urban environment of Southern California, including the USC Children’s Health Study and the work of the Southern California Environmental Health Sciences Center which continues to investigate the health effects of air pollution on Los Angeles youth.

In a presentation, equal parts heartfelt and scientifically invigorating, Dr. Merchant’s lecture concluded with an emphasis on the importance of translating scientific findings into policy changes.  He received a standing ovation from the audience.

Thomas Smith, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Industrial Hygiene in the Department of Environmental Health at the Harvard School of Public Health provided introductory remarks at the lecture. Dr. Smith shared kind words about his personal and professional experiencewith his close friend and collaborator, Dr. Peters.

The John Peters Fund was founded in 2009 to support research and educational activities in environmental health within the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine.
By Kristin Dessie