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Critical Planning

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Where Health, Planning, and Community Empowerment Meet: A Rapid Health Impact Assessment Model and its Application in Los Angeles


There has been a surge of interest in Health Impact Assessment (HIA) in the United States, contributing to a range of practices that vary in their effort, duration, and complexity. HIA is a systematic but flexible process used to increase discussion of impacts to human health in decisions, such as in planning, which traditionally would not consider mental, social, or physical health and well-being but can affect them. Stakeholder partici- pation is a core element of HIA practice, yet research suggests a gap between the intention of including meaningful participation and its implementation. This is particularly true in what are known as rapid HIAs due to their especially short timelines and the resource-in- tensiveness of meaningful community participation. We sought to address that gap, draw- ing on standard HIA practice and a Consensus Conference approach from Denmark to develop a rapid Health Impact Assessment model that includes meaningful participation and fosters empowerment among impacted residents using limited resources and within a short decision-making timeline. This paper describes a 2012 piloting of the rapid HIA model on a proposed stadium development project and findings about the HIA’s impact, based on interviews with project stakeholders and a review of project outcomes. Findings indicated that the new model was successful: it contributed to a broader strategy that won a variety of health benefits and measures for the community; residents were engaged and felt empowered by the process; the rapid HIA helped organizations meet their goals; and the project contributed to changes in the stadium proposal that benefit health. The findings suggest that the model helps address a potential conflict practitioners and planners face between conducting a project with a short timeline and more fully engaging community stakeholders in the process.

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