Winter 2005 Newsletter

California's Health Director, Dr. Richard Jackson, Links Children's Health & Safety With Neighborhood Vitality

Richard JacksonDr. Richard J. Jackson, M.D., M.P.H., is California's state public health offi cer. This excerpt from an op-ed article he fi rst published in The Sacramento Bee is reprinted by permission. In it, Dr. Jackson insightfully points out the necessity of using scarce urban land to build healthy neighborhoods within which to raise healthy children. He argues those who own land in the inner city have a fi duciary duty to future generations to plan and inhabit our environs so we might enjoy open space and healthy recreation.

As a pediatrician and public health doctor, it amazes me that good people who would never dream of abusing or endangering their children think so little about the dangers embedded in their communities.

Today, parents in many parts of Los Angeles have trouble finding a safe urban park, bike trail or sidewalk for their children. Kids spend most of their lives inside buildings and cars and have precious little access to green or open space. Their parents spend long hours chauffeuring children, white-knuckled on crowded freeways, inhaling a host of noxious pollutants. Meanwhile, the elderly live in fear of the inevitable loss of driving privileges because of how pedestrian-hostile and car-dependent our environments have become.

Do we really want California to become a giant L.A. County? Of the 10 cities with the worst air pollution in America, four are in inland California. California will have close to 100 million residents by the end of this century, and without thoughtful stewardship and care of its land, this fertile valley - the state's agricultural and economic engine - will become another L.A., paved with eightlane highways and sprawling subdivisions, giant malls and fast food joints. Unlike L.A., however, there will be no freshening cool breeze from the ocean. Instead, Sacramento may become as hot as the desert if expansion continues to ignore smart growth principles.

California's love affair with the car and ever-increasing energy demands from super-sized homes, stores and worksites are contributing to an expected temperature increase of three to seven degrees in Sacramento, an increase that would make summers here even hotter than those in scorching Phoenix. This environmental change is more than just warmer summers and dirtier air. California's identity, culture and international reputation are at stake.

Recall that in 1946, Los Angeles was California's leading agricultural county. If we continue developing communities that force us to drive more, move less and consume more energy, we will destroy our precious land. The Central Valley, California's agricultural heartland, will be forced to import food. Melting snow packs in the Sierra will shrink our water reservoirs and send outdoor enthusiasts elsewhere for WINTER recreation.

There is no doubt that California's population and human capital are growing. California has a unique opportunity to build its communities to embrace this young and innovative generation. Those who own and control the land hold a trust for all our grandchildren, one we dare not steal from them.

Telling our kids to exercise and giving them no place to run is abusive. Telling them to learn in school but cheating them of safe ways to walk and bicycle is sinful. If the present generation seeks reverence and care from our grandchildren, we owe them a state that is at least as healthful and beautiful and diverse as the one our grandparents gave us. And while critics may doubt and debate the merits of smart growth, its underlying benefi ts are common sense to most of us. We humans work and live better when we have the opportunity to play, run around, have fun and be outdoors. This simple lesson should underscore the way we plan and inhabit our environments.