October 12, 2018

Transforming Community Spaces: Lessons from West Harlem Group Assistance

Alison Mears, Allison Sloan

This post was originally written for WE ACT’s blog during their “Healthy Homes Week”. To read the full article, click here.

“When Architects and Designers specify better, healthier building products for housing renovations it can make a big impact on the lives of residents and provide concrete evidence for change.” —Alison Mears, Director, Healthy Materials Lab

Research demonstrates that substantial human health risks can result from exposure to toxic chemicals present in building products in constructed environments. These health risks can include an increase in cases of asthma, cancer, obesity, and issues related to developmental and reproductive health. The health risks are particularly high for children, pregnant women and people living in poverty. By making simple changes to building products used in renovation we can create better places for all people.

In the 2015 Community Health Profiles, Dr. Mary Bassett, Commissioner for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, made the following statement regarding New York City’s built environment:

“New York City is a city of neighborhoods. Poor health outcomes tend to cluster in places that people of color call home and where many residents live in poverty…This is unfair and avoidable. A person’s health should not be determined by his or her ZIP code. Reducing health inequities requires policymakers, health professionals, researchers and community groups to advocate and work together for systemic change. Poorly maintained housing is associated with negative health outcomes, including asthma and other respiratory illnesses, injuries and poor mental health.”

Healthy Materials Lab (HML) is a group of design researchers at Parsons School of Design working to bring a consideration of human health to all aspects of design and building practices and is changing how the next generation of designers build- particularly for populations that have been historically excluded. We work to demonstrate and accelerate the many ways in which better materials can improve the health and lives of all people.

Specifically, we work towards creating better practices in the affordable housing sector to accelerate the creation of healthier homes nationwide. We aim to reduce exposure totoxics for families living in low-income and affordable housing by making it easier for designers, architects, and housing developers to avoid the most toxic chemicals present in the building materials commonly used in affordable housing. We create a range of tools and resources that will enable these decision makers to inform and change their construction practices throughout the design, building, and occupation by bringing all stakeholders together to be part of the building process. This ensures that human health decisions become incorporated into the final building.

Continued on WE ACT’s blog.

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