Journal of Bioethical Inquiry

, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 39–48 | Cite as

Ethical Considerations Involved in Constructing the Built Environment to Promote Health



The prevalence of chronic diseases has increased in recent decades. Some forms of the built environment adopted during the 20th century—e.g., urban sprawl, car dependency, and dysfunctional streetscapes—have contributed to this. In this article, I summarise ways in which the built environment influences health and how it can be constructed differently to promote health. I argue that urban planning is inevitably a social and political activity with many ethical dimensions, and I illustrate this with two examples: the construction of a hypothetical new suburb and a current review of planning legislation in Australia. I conclude that (1) constructing the built environment in ways that promote health can be ethically justified, (2) urban planners and public health workers should become more skilled in the application of ethical considerations to practical problems, and (3) the public health workforce needs to become more competent at influencing the activities of other sectors.


Ethics Public health Chronic disease Social environment City planning 


  1. Ashton, J., and H. Seymour. 1988. The new public health. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Baum, F. 2002. The new public health, 2nd edition Melbourne: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Beatley, T. 1994. Environmental ethics and the field of planning: Alternative theories and middle-range principles. In Values and planning, ed. H. Thomas, 12–37. Aldershot: Avebury.Google Scholar
  4. Bowen, S., A.B. Zwi, P. Sainsbury, and M. Whitehead. 2009. Killer facts, politics and other influences: What evidence triggered early childhood intervention policies in Australia? Evidence and Policy 5(1): 5–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Campbell, H. 2012. “Planning ethics” and rediscovering the idea of planning. Planning Theory 11(4):379–399. Epub ahead of print April 17, 2012,
  6. Carter, S.M., L. Rychetnik, B. Lloyd, et al. 2011. Evidence, ethics, and values: A framework for health promotion. American Journal of Public Health 101(3): 465–472.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Climate and Health Alliance and The Climate Institute. 2012. Our uncashed dividend: The health benefits of climate action.
  8. Dannenberg, A.L., H. Frumkin, and R.L. Jackson (eds.). 2011. Making healthy places. Designing and building for health, well-being, and sustainability. Washington, DC: Island Press.Google Scholar
  9. Haines, A., A.J. McMichael, K.R. Smith, et al. 2009. Public health benefits of strategies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: Overview and implications for public health policy makers. The Lancet 374(9707): 2104–2114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Harris, P., F. Haigh, P. Sainsbury, and M. Wise. 2012. Influencing land use planning: Making the most of opportunities to work upstream. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 36(1): 5–7.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Harvey, D. 2011. The enigma of capital and the crises of capitalism. London: Profile Books.Google Scholar
  12. Hendler, S. (ed.). 1995. Planning ethics. A reader in planning theory, practice and education. New Brunswick: Centre for Urban Policy Research.Google Scholar
  13. Holland, S. 2007. Public health ethics. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  14. Kent, J., S.M. Thompson, and B. Jalaludin. 2011. Healthy built environments: A review of the literature. Sydney: The Healthy Built Environments Program, City Futures Research Centre, UNSW.
  15. McMichael, A., H. Montgomery, and A. Costello. 2012. Health risks, present and future, from global climate change. BMJ 344: e1359. doi:
  16. NSW Department of Health. 2009. Healthy urban development checklist: A guide for health services when commenting on development policies, plans and proposals. Sydney: NSW Department of Health.
  17. NSW Department of Planning and Infrastructure. 2011. NSW Planning System Review.
  18. NSW Government. 2012. A new planning system for NSW: Green paper. Sydney: NSW Government.
  19. Peckham, S., and A. Hann, eds. 2010. Public health ethics and practice. Bristol: Policy Press.Google Scholar
  20. Thomas, H. (ed.). 1994. Values and planning. Aldershot: Avebury.Google Scholar
  21. Watson, V. 2006. Deep difference: Diversity, planning and ethics. Planning Theory 5(1): 31–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. World Health Organization. 2003. WHO definition of health.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Population Health, South Western Sydney and Sydney Local Health DistrictsLiverpoolAustralia
  2. 2.Sydney School of Public HealthUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  3. 3.City Futures Research Centre, Faculty of the Built EnvironmentUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia

Personalised recommendations