Sample Syllabi for Planning Education

Abbreviated descriptions of previously offered courses in the area connecting planning and public health are listed below. Full syllabi for these courses are available at the end of each description. They include syllabi from the following schools:

Other schools now offering a built environment and public health course include:

  • Cornell University Department of Design and Environmental Analysis
  • Columbia Mailman School of Public Health
  • University of West Florida School of Allied Health and Life Sciences
  • University of Washington College of Architecture and Urban Planning
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute Department of Urban Affairs and Planning
  • Ohio State University City and Regional Planning Program

Below are a list of schools that offer a course with a particular focus within the built environment and health nexus.

Note, those who would like to add their school to this list of built environment and public health curriculum offerings should submit that information here.

Boston University, School of Public Health, The Built Environment: Design Solutions for Public Health (4 credits), Russell Lopez DSc MCRP

This course provides an overview of urban planning to public health students and introduces public health concepts to urban planners. At the conclusion of the course, students will be able to:

  • Explain the rationale behind historical and current theories on the relationship between the built environment and public health
  • Identify contemporary features of the built environment such as parks, public works projects, single family homes, apartment buildings, transportation systems and highways, etc., that reflect past efforts to influence health.
  • Critique historic patterns of development and assess the health consequences of contemporary urban forms.
  • Evaluate the evidence for the built environment–health link.
  • Explain the role of the built environment in the context of other factors that influence health.
  • Understand how the built environment might influence other efforts to protect and promote health.
  • Utilize studies and methodologies developed by sociologists, anthropologists, urban planners and architects to evaluate the health impacts of the built environment.
  • Propose built environment-based interventions, based on current evidence and the lessons learned from the past studies of the built environment, to promote public health.
  • Develop and implement new programs and policies that utilize built environment and design to promote public health.

Download full syllabus

Georgia Institute of Technology, College of Architecture and Emory University, Rollins School of Public Health, Public Health and Built Environment, Dr. Nisha Botchwey, PhD, MCRP, MPH, and Jimmy Dills, MUP, MPH

This interdisciplinary course, examines how cities and neighborhoods can have both positive and adverse effects on human health, and produces recommendations to improve these outcomes. Seminar is an elective planning and public health course that explores the interconnections between these fields and equips students with skills and experiences to plan healthy communities. The planning and public health disciplines emerged together with the common goal of preventing outbreaks of infectious disease.  Since that time, the two disciplines diverged in their foci; public health following a clinical model and planning focusing on urban design and physical form.  However, as the intimate connections between the built environment and disease continue to be revealed, the planning and public health fields have begun to converge once again.  This course covers planning and public health foundations, natural and built environments, vulnerable populations and health equity, and health policy and global impacts.  For their end of semester assessment students complete a healthy communities plan on a community of particular interest, applying current evidence and best practices studied throughout the semester.

Download Full Syllabus

UC Berkeley, School of Public Health, Built Environment and Health (3 credits), Richard Jackson, MD MPH

An interdisciplinary Course on the Built Environment and Health: Breaking down the Silos. The US and other developed, as well as developing countries, are facing increasingly lethal and costly epidemics of acute and chronic diseases related to land use and built environment decisions. While the hazards presented by air and water pollution are well recognized for acute, infectious and toxicological illnesses, there is only now increasing recognition of the hazards presented by building and community designs that fail to recognize human health. Land use and built environment decisions impact every age group, social and racial minority. These impacts range from the very acute (motor vehicle trauma) to the long term (obesity, cancer, heart disease). These decisions have as their bases economic, financial, insurance, housing and other factors. Participants in the sessions would analyze each of these factors and related disease endpoints.

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UIC, College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, Planning for Healthy Cities (3 credits), Curtis Winkle, PhD

This course explores the changing role of health in planning, the ecology of risk in urban areas, prescriptions for healthy urban design, the needs of special populations in the city, community health planning, and an overview of some major policy issues affecting urban health.

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UT Austin, Graduate Program in Community and Regional Planning, The Built Environment and Public Health (3 credits), Tracey McMillan, PhD

This course is intended to promote an interdisciplinary learning environment to examine the relationship between the built environment and public health issues/outcomes using the social ecological model. Despite the long history and daily interplay these areas have with one another, they are traditionally taught and practiced with little coordination. Issues related to transportation, land use, urban design, architecture, community development, environmental policy, health promotion and disease prevention are discussed, with examples covering how and why these elements should be considered part of the process and the outcome of public decision-making.

Download full syllabus

UVA, Schools of Architecture and Medicine, Healthy Communities Seminar (3 credits), Professor Nisha Botchwey, PhD MCP

The Healthy Communities Seminar is an elective planning course that explores the interconnections between the fields of planning and public health. These fields emerged together with the common goal of preventing outbreaks of infectious disease. Since that time, the two disciplines have diverged in their focus; public health following a clinical model and planning focusing on urban design and physical form. However, as the intimate connections between the built environment and disease continue to be revealed, the planning and public health fields are reconnecting once again. This course begins with an evaluation of the respective histories of the planning and public health fields through to the present. Subsequent discussions include analysis of: (1) the natural environment (air, water, food), (2) manmade environment (sprawl, sidewalks, schools, parks, traffic and cul-de-sacs) and resultant physical activity and injury, (3) mental health and relationships (social capital, parish nursing, neighborhood context), (4) health disparities (children, elderly, minorities, environmental justice), and (5) health, policy and ethics (sustainable planning and consumption patterns, housing, social policy, EIAs and HIAs, individual rights versus population health).

Download full syllabus(link to UVA3_Botchwey.pdf)

UVA, Schools of Architecture and Medicine, Built Environment and Community Health (1 credit), Professor Nisha Botchwey, PhD MCP

The Built Environment & Community Health Course is an interdisciplinary Public Health and Planning Health course that explores the connections between the built environment and community health. Faculty members from across the University with expertise in public health, medicine, urban planning, engineering, education and economics will lead sessions that address current built environment and community health topics in partnership with local community leaders. Discussion topics will include physical activity promotion, mobility, transportation safety, land use, school health, health disparities, mental health, and chronic disease prevention.

Download full syllabus

University of Louisville, School of Public Health and Information Sciences, Urban Systems and Public Health (3 credits), Susan Olson Allen, PhD

This course explores the relationship between the built environment and its influence on a community’s health. It is thus interdisciplinary in its approach, touching especially on the fields of public health and urban planning. Despite the fact that historically the two fields were considered one, today they are practiced in nearly total exclusivity. This seminar will examine such issues as theories and concepts of behavior and design, health disparities, social capital, physical activity, and air, water and transportation.

Download full syllabus

University of Louisville, Psychology and Brain Sciences, Body and Health II: The Community (3 credits), Paul Salmon, PhD

The major purpose of this course is to study the topic of health and wellness in the context of the broader community. We will do this by developing a preliminary visionary plan for a Community Wellness Center that will integrate the University of Louisville’s Belknap Campus with the surrounding community. The proposed center will serve as an anchor point for facilities, programs, and research on health and wellness conducted by University staff, faculty, and students. The center will serve as a Wellness Center for a diverse population of children and adults drawn from the surrounding neighborhood(s), many of whom have been designated as underserved populations with elevated health risk levels. The Center will offer a diverse range of fitness, health, and wellness facilities, as well as community-oriented health programs, classes, and other resources.

Download full syllabus

University of Washington, School of Public Health and College of Built Environments, Public Health and Built Environment, Andrew L. Dannenberg, MD, MPH and Fritz Wagner, PhD

This interdisciplinary course focuses on the increasing recognition that the design of communities can impact human health. Community designs that feature parks, sidewalks, trails, public transit, and connectivity among destinations can encourage physical activity, help prevent obesity and its associated health consequences, and reduce dependence on automobiles whose use contributes to air pollution, motor vehicle crashes, and pedestrian injuries. Increased attention to the health implications of the built environment has led to various innovative solutions, such as mixed-use Smart Growth developments, investments in bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure, and the use of health impact assessments to convey health information to community decision-makers.

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Portland State University, Urban Studies & Planning, Urban & Public Affairs, Healthy People/Healthy Places (3 credits), Ellen Shoshkes, PhD

The aim of this sophomore inquiry is to provide an understanding of this ecological concept of health as a dynamic process of adaptation to a constantly changing environment. Students will examine the relationship between how we live our lives and the economic, social and physical environments that surround us. A term-long community-based project provides an opportunity for hands-on experience with the subject matter. Students will develop skills to study characteristics of the built environment that may influence health and apply lessons from urban planning and public health research to current and future problems.

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University of British Columbia, School of Community and Regional Planning, Public Health and the Built Environment (3 credits), Lawrence Frank, PhD

Taken collectively, the recent emergence of an obesity pandemic, increasing awareness of the environmental destruction associated with auto dependence, and increasing energy costs collectively suggest that investments in non-motorized transportation may soon emerge as a form of win – win public policy. At a time when Canadian and U.S. federal mandates are calling for reductions in air pollution associated with vehicular travel, currently dominant approaches to designing urban environments often serve to inhibit non-motorized travel.

This class is set within this socio-political backdrop, students will learn about the role of non-motorized transportation as a tool for the improvement of personal and environmental health. This class will familiarize students with factors that impact the choice to walk and bike and how to apply findings from research to specific transportation planning and programming (investment) processes and projects.

Download full syllabus


Map of Georgia Tech

Georgia Institute of Technology
School of City and Regional Planning
245 4th St
Atlanta, GA 30332

The Built Environment and Public Health Clearinghouse was supported by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention's Office of the National Prevention Strategy and Healthy Community Design Program and made possible through additional support from the American Public Health Association, the National Network of Public Health Institutes, and the American Planning Association's Planning and Community Health Research Center. Interested in adding to and supporting the Clearinghouse? Contact the Clearinghouse at