The Douglas County Health Department conducted an HIA to inform connections between new real estate development and existing neighborhoods in the city of Omaha. Neighborhood connectivity is directly related to health outcomes such as increased physical activity, decreased injury, and reduced stress. The HIA identified health and safety issues that should be considered in decisions on street connections and assessed whether the resident engagement aspect of the development review process could be improved.
The HIA estimated probable health impacts from four neighborhood connection scenarios: no connection, pedestrian-bike path only, street connection without traffic calming, and street connection with traffic calming. It found that each scenario would have mixed effects on health. The HIA made recommendations to maximize positive health impacts of connection decisions and identified two priorities: keep trips on the appropriate street for the specific trip (i.e., local trips on local streets and regional trips on arterials) and minimizing speeding. The assessment also recommended establishing a threshold of traffic volume increase that would trigger traffic calming measures. The HIA encouraged developers and officials to engage residents while decision-making flexibility still exists and before developers submit formal applications to city staff.
With grant funding from the Health Impact Project, the county Health Department will also strengthen Build With Health, a collaboration of the department, the city of Omaha, and other partners that was created under a previous HIA grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Build With Health will systematically integrate health and community engagement into the city’s overall neighborhood revitalization process, including its required National Environmental Policy Act review for housing projects. Part of this work will create and implement screening checklists that streamline the consideration of health early in the neighborhood redevelopment process.