Birds Eye View of Harris County

Harris County, TX works to align economic growth and public health

In Harris County, TX, the Department of Public Health and Environmental Services (HCPHES) knew that encouraging smarter development could benefit both public health and the local economy. But creating real change meant more than just having the knowledge. If smart growth was to become a reality, local officials, business leaders, and interested citizens needed to join the process and feel ownership.

So HCPHES brought in the experts.

Over the course of two days in August 2014, HCPHES, local leaders, and residents of the City of Pasadena, TX met with representatives from Smart Growth America for a technical assistance workshop on Planning for Fiscal and Economic Health. The workshop focused on how a shift in development patterns towards more compact, walkable development could strengthen Pasadena’s economy and public finances—while also promoting healthy living, a key issue for the region.

Like many places in the United States, Harris County struggles with obesity–it is estimated that 65 percent of adults and 44 percent of youths there are overweight or obese. To promote healthier lifestyles, HCPHES helps support policy changes to build more walkable, bikeable, and youth-friendly places.

HCPHES considers Pasadena a priority area because, in addition to having high obesity rates, the community is also experiencing strong economic growth. A key strategy for HCPHES is ensuring that future development is welcomed in a way that promotes, rather than compromises, residents’ health.

To help community members understand the link between development and public health, the first day of the workshop presented a broad overview of the fiscal and economic implications of different development patterns. The presentation focused on the differences between sprawling patterns and more compact “smart growth” patterns, including how smart growth better aligns with health issues like walkability and fiscal concerns like infrastructure costs.

The second day brought together elected officials and professional staff from the City of Pasadena and HCPHES, as well as representatives from the real estate community, a local library, and Smart Growth America coalition partner Houston Tomorrow, for a full-day work session. Together, these groups viewed additional presentations and led brainstorming sessions to delve deeper into the ideas presented the night before.

Smart Growth America’s technical assistance has helped over 50 communities from California to Maine achieve their goals.

To access workshop materials, visit http://www.smartgrowthamerica.org/2014/11/24/harris-county-tx-works-to-align-economic-growth-and-public-health/

Published on 12/15/2014