The City of Richmond is among many communities in the Bay Area and the
nation that are struggling to address critical issues related to public
health including, air pollution, water and soil contamination,
pedestrian and bicyclist injuries, chronic diseases, and crime and
violence. Many of these issues are directly related to the design of
the built environment and have historic roots. The industrial past of
the city is both a source of pride as well as a significant challenge
that affects the health and well being of its current residents,
especially vulnerable population groups such as children, elderly,
people of color and low-income households.
Already, Richmond residents are at a higher risk than residents in the rest of the county on many health indicators including, the highest proportion of deaths from diabetes, a much higher than average rate of children requiring hospitalization due to asthma, and the second highest number of hospitalizations for mental health disorders and substance abuse. Richmond residents are also disproportionately affected by heart disease, cancer, and stroke (Contra Costa County Hospital Council Report, Community Health Indicators for Selected Cities and Places in Contra Costa County, March 3, 2005).
In addition, 36.3% of Richmond’s 99,216 residents live in poverty. Richmond also has a large non-white population with 35.6% African American and 26.5% Latino residents. In comparison, the county’s population is 9% African American and 18% Latino. Recent studies have shown that despite steady improvements in the overall health in United States, racial and ethnic minorities experience a lower quality of health services, are less likely to receive routine medical procedures, and have higher rates of morbidity and mortality than non-minorities. Disparities in health care exist even when controlling for gender, condition, age and socio-economic status (American Medical Association).
Recognizing that there are critical health risks in the community, the City of Richmond is developing a comprehensive Community Health and Wellness Element for its General Plan. A general plan primarily addresses concerns that relate to the built environment, but because the City of Richmond is defining public health broadly, the Community Health and Wellness Element will also address socio-economic conditions that largely explain health disparities among low-income and minority communities.
California state law requires each jurisdiction in the state to develop a general plan that contains seven elements including, circulation, conservation, housing, land use, noise, open-space, and safety. Optional elements often adopted include economic development, infrastructure, public services and facilities, and recreation. For the most part, public health considerations are not addressed in a city’s General Plan.
The Shoreline in the City
Richmond is one of the first cities in the country to develop a
comprehensive general plan element that addresses the link between
public health and the built environment. This effort was funded by The
California Endowment (TCE) with a $255,000 grant for an 18-month
planning process to coincide with the overall general plan update
As the City of Richmond addresses public health in the general plan update, it will take recent efforts one step further by strongly linking city policies on the design of the built environment with benefits and impacts on public health and wellbeing.
The general plan will address factors that influence mental and physical health including, physical activity, nutrition, bicycle and pedestrian safety, hazardous materials and contamination, air and water quality, housing quality, preventive medical care, homelessness, and violent crime, among others. The general plan element will also be sensitive to the historic impacts on low income communities due to pollution and segregation, recognizing that many low-income households in the city share a disproportionately higher burden of impacts.