Resources and Tools
Planning is a highly interdisciplinary activity for any local or state government, incorporating land use, environmental protection, transportation, housing, economic development, and much more. An often-overlooked responsibility is advancing public health. Preserving green space, developing parks and other recreational facilities, connecting walkable and bikeable transportation networks, and ensuring the quality of Maryland’s air and water are just a few of the ways in which planners can promote healthy and vibrant communities. Considered from another perspective, this might be planning’s most significant role. The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) recently developed the Environmental Public Health Tracking Tool (MDEPHT) to promote the health of Maryland citizens and jurisdictions as they consider the future of their communities. The Maryland Department of Planning (Planning) is leveraging the extensive work completed by DHMH to advocate that the MDEPHT be used as an information resource for local governments during their planning efforts.
The MDEPHT is a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) funded collection of environmental hazard monitoring and human health effects data that provides the user with advanced spatial and tabular analysis and dissemination capabilities. The tool details county profiles outlining demographic information as well as highlighting statistics on health factors such as immunizations, water quality, communicable diseases, and environmental contaminants (eg. lead). In addition, the MDEPHT contains dozens of interactive maps allowing the researcher to analyze the intensity of health concerns such as cancer and carbon monoxide poisoning at the county level. The tool even provides the ability to create and print a map of health indicators across multiple years down to the zip code. But the program is not only for mapping. On top of extensive data reserves, it also connects the user to valuable resources and organizations able to assist with improving community health outcomes and advancing health education.
Planning’s mapping and data capabilities supported the development of the MDEPHT, and the partnership established with DHMH will elevate planning best practices in Maryland. The program provides Planning with health data that can be shared with local governments as they update their local comprehensive plans or develop strategic plans and capital improvement projects that foster healthier communities. For example, a jurisdiction could use the tool’s ability to locate areas of high asthma when developing objectives for improved air quality and pest control in a vulnerable community. A municipality could target enhanced walkability measures for a neighborhood with a high obesity rate. Planning’s regional planners are currently promoting the use of the MDEPHT with Maryland’s local planning departments and encouraging them to utilize this health data as they evaluate changes to their land use plans and identify ways to improve the quality of life for their residents.
The collaboration with DHMH will not end here. The interagency partnership looks forward to future projects, such as integrating program funding data from the Smart Growth Subcabinet agencies with health data to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of Planning’s assistance to local governments in meeting their local needs and addressing their public health concerns. Maryland State government works best when agencies work together. To learn more about the Environmental Public Health Tracking Tool, please visit the project website or contact DHMH at email@example.com or 1-866-703-3266.