Transforming and Rewriting Baltimore: How the city’s new zoning code may affect your health and what you can do about it.

Baltimore's Food Deserts

Baltimore's Food Deserts

Baltimore is currently in the process of revising its zoning code for the first time since 1971. Since this process only happens once every 30-40 years, this is your once in a lifetime chance to influence what development in this city is going to look like for the next 40 years. Here’s a little info on what zoning has to do with health and what changes related to health are in store the newly released draft code which is open for public comment until September 10, 2010. Read on to get a sense of what to look for from the health perspective in the rewrite and how to participate in the rewrite process as a resident of Baltimore.

What does zoning have to do with public health?

If you are someone who cares about health in Baltimore, then you should care about the zoning code rewrite. Zoning influences the way a city looks from what kinds of houses and businesses can locate where, how big they can be, and often what the design of those buildings has to look like. Zoning codes comprise two pieces: a document that lists the categories of uses and a zoning map that assigns the zoning categories do different parts of the city. This is probably not news to you…but zoning is actually much broader than this. It dictates how much external lighting buildings can have, if and where farmers markets and urban agriculture can operate, how much parking both businesses and homes must offer, and also influences how “walkable” the city is.

The original goal of zoning was to protect ‘public health and welfare’ by separating healthy and unhealthy land uses – like keeping industry and manufacturing away from where people lived and went to school. Today, ‘public health and welfare’ encompasses much more than it used to – from safety from crime to mental health to food access. With this in mind, one can see how other aspects of the built environment and city-scape, such as green space, distribution of housing options and proximity to daily services, can play a role in influencing residents’ ability to lead healthy lives. Read More >

The Usual…and Not So Usual Suspects

Upon leaving the 2009 National Environmental Public Health Conference, one of the important themes that will stay with me is the need to routinely branch out to other disciplines to solve public health problems. For example, city planners, architects and transportation departments need to be at the table with public health professionals more often to address human health problems impacted by the built environment. (This concept is one being embraced by CLF—for one, the center is working with Baltimore planners on the city’s food policy task force to improve healthy food availability.)

As Catherine Ross, director of Georgia Tech’s Center for Quality Growth and Regional Development said, we need to learn to speak each others’ language. On the local level, this collaboration is even more important. When local zoning departments work together with environment and public health offices to maximize natural resources and engage in smarter design of our roads and buildings, it makes it easier for the feds to do so, she said. Read More >