Racism is a Public Health Crisis

As protests unfold across the US, it is clear we are at a moment of reckoning.

Racism is a long-standing trauma and a public health crisis our country has experienced throughout its history, and continues to face today. Police violence against Black people is just one insidious facet of systemic racism that ripples through our daily lives.

Racism and discrimination are leading barriers to health equity, and have perpetuated a society where Black people are more likely to face chronic diseases, die from violence, and suffer from prolonged depression. [1, 2, 3] The pandemic unfolding over the last few months has made the hazards of health disparities and racism all the more visible, with Black communities bearing a disproportionate amount of the COVID-19 burden. For example, here in New York City, Black residents are more than twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as Whites. [4]

Each of us has a role to play in advancing a more just, healthy, and equitable society. This includes listening to one another and working together in good faith to root out discrimination in all its forms. As built environment professionals, we must remember that our influence is profound—as is our responsibility. We must work to reverse the negative impacts of long-standing discriminatory practices such as redlining, disinvestment, and environmental injustices that continue to burden Black communities.

Collectively and collaboratively, we can apply our knowledge, creativity, and skills to create buildings and public spaces that prioritize the physical, mental, and social well-being of Black people. We can start with investing in the fundamental pillars of a healthy neighborhood—like affordable housing, well-maintained public spaces, healthy food access, economic opportunities, and civic and cultural resources. We can benefit from uplifting and amplifying the leadership of Black architects and urbanists who are setting a course for a better future. Download the Blackspace Manifesto, developed by some of our colleagues in NYC, for an inspiring example of such a vision.

This moment is incredibly challenging, revealing, and important. Let’s take the time to grieve, protest, listen, and learn from our Black colleagues and community members—and chart a pathway forward to make anti-racism and health equity central priorities in all of our work.

In Solidarity,

The Center for Active Design Team


Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America, and What We Can Do About It by Mindy Thompson Fullilove | Link →

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein | Link →

Twitter Thread: Best Practices, Voices, and Research of Women, Black People, and White Allies at the Intersection of Placemaking and Race | Link →

The Trace: The Pandemic’s Impact on Racial Inequity and Violence Can’t Be Ignored | Link →

VOX: Police brutality is a public health crisis | Link →

Act.tv: Systematic Racism Explained | Link →

Anti-Racist Resources for White People | Link →

BMJ Journal: Confronting power and privilege for inclusive, equitable, and healthy communities | Link →

Active Living Research: Do All Children Have Places to Be Active? Disparities in Access to Physical Activity Environments in Racial and Ethnic Minority and Lower-Income Communities | Link →

CityLab: There Are No Urban Design Courses on Race and Justice, So We Made Our Own Syllabus | Link →


[1] Thorpe, K. E., et al. (2017). The United States can reduce socioeconomic disparities by focusing on chronic diseases. Health Affairs, Retrieved from https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20170817.061561/full/

[2] Riddell, C. A., et al. (2018). Comparison of rates of firearm and nonfirearm homicide and suicide in Black and White Non-Hispanic Men, by U.S. States. Annals of Internal Medicine, 168(10), 712-720.

[3] Bailey, R. K., Mokonogho, J., & Kumar, A. (2019). Racial and ethnic differences in depression: current perspectives. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 15, 603-609.

[4] Garg S, et al. (2020). Hospitalization Rates and Characteristics of Patients Hospitalized with Laboratory-Confirmed Coronavirus Disease 2019 — COVID-NET, 14 States, March 1–30, 2020. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 69, 458–464.

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