Toward the Healthy City: Urban Planning in the 21st Century

April 16, 2017

by Paul Hislip, Communications intern (Class of 2018)

Carlos Gallinar, AICP, MCRP ’04, presented the annual Ruth Ellen Steinman and Edward J. Bloustein Memorial Lecture at the Bloustein School last fall. A man of many accomplishments, Gallinar was the first in his family to attend college, and his work in El Paso, Texas, has won several prestigious awards including the America’s Best Smart Growth Award. He was also recently selected as a Bloustein School 2016 Young Alumni Achievement honoree.

He began his lecture quoting one of the books he read during his Bloustein School years, Readings in Planning Theory by Scott Campbell and Susan Feinstein. “What is the ideal city for the twentieth century, that best expresses the power and beauty of modern technology and the most enlightened ideas of social justice?”

Gallinar used this to begin the discussion of the history of urban planning. He included  people such as Jacob Riis and his book How the Other Half Lives on the horrible conditions in tenements, and Ebenezer Howard’s Garden Cities of To-Morrow on the garden city movement, which blended urban conditions with rural in order to create suburbs and overall less crowded conditions. Following this was Le Corbusier’s radiant city movement, introducing the idea of cities becoming more vertical as opposed to more sprawling; as well as other movements that helped improve conditions in industrial cities, and creating the urban planning profession of today.

After the brief history lesson, he proceeded to the crux of his speech; namely, where people live, and how it affects their physical and mental wellbeing. He began by presenting a list of the leading causes of death in the United States—first a general list, then a list of the top three preventable causes. Obesity in particular was highlighted, noting just how many people suffer from obesity as well as the distribution of the condition by race. Gallinar argued for neighborhoods being designed in a way that encourages people to walk or bicycle and get a little exercise each day. Having neighborhoods that encourage a more active lifestyle keeps people from feeling forced to follow a more gung-ho exercise routine; they can instead start off small with walking or biking. Conversely, when neighborhoods are built in ways that inhibit these activities, it is much harder for residents to get the physical activity they need.

Gallinar, former Deputy Director for Planning at the City of El Paso and currently Executive Director for Planning and Innovative School Construction, El Paso Independent School District, El Paso, Texas also discussed his own experiences. He noted that the El Paso Independent School District is gradually losing enrollment, something he believes can be attributed to suburban sprawl. He used his experiences to segue into a discussion on walking to school and how more schools have become inaccessible on foot, leading to children who do not walk to school and related rising rates of childhood obesity. To this end, he demonstrated the juxtaposition between the historic El Segundo Barrio neighborhood and the newer Far East Side neighborhood. El Segundo Barrio is set up in a grid pattern, with many routes from point A to point B, whereas the Far East Side is much more sprawling with many dead-end streets, which discourages active transportation. Older areas were set up such that more people could walk places they wanted to, including schools, but the Far East Side has schools that are more spread out, with some areas unable to realistically walk to school. In addition, the pathways to the schools are much less green and safe by comparison.

Before he left his position with the City of El Paso, he created an ordinance to encourage El Paso to be more mindful of how they design their schools. Instead of creating large, sprawling schools that are hard to access with active transportation, they should be integrated into the neighborhood.

Gallinar also mentioned the idea of social capital and mental health, highlighting the concept of the “third place”—that is, neither home nor work, but an area for residents to use the neighborhood in ways that do not focus on private areas. An example of a third place would be a neighborhood bar, park or coffee shop. Parks in particular were mentioned as something that needed more attention from today’s planners, and he urged planners to create spaces, whether parks, streets, or other venues, that are welcoming for the neighborhood, and that can be used as this “third place.” Gallinar also made the point that for children, school is their “second” place, and their third place may just be as simple as the front porch.

He concluded his lecture with a discussion on the market and desire for healthy, mixed-use spaces, going over several studies and articles that reinforce what most people are looking for when they are looking to move–more walkable, social neighborhoods. He summarized his lecture by returning to his initial quote, but with a modern spin: “What is the ideal city for the twenty-first century, that best expresses the power and beauty of modern technology and the most enlightened ideas of social justice and health?”

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