Health on Main Streets: Evaluating the Impact of Los Angeles’s Retail Environment on Community & Public Health
- Author(s): Raja, Anissa
- Advisor(s): Loukaitou-Sideris, Anastasia
- et al.
While the slow death of retail is unraveling in cities nationwide, some local shopping areas still serve an important community value. Main street retail areas are venues for commercial activity and anchor the neighborhood’s economic environment (Mehta & Bosson, 2010). The types of businesses that are found in these spaces indicate sociodemographic aspects of their nearby neighborhoods. Main streets can be homes to a variety of businesses. From a health perspective, businesses that are considered to be “health-harming” are often concentrated in underprivileged neighborhoods and are associated with higher rates of chronic disease (Cummins et al., 2007). Planning tools and policies permit such retail businesses to exist in these spaces, potentially causing adverse health impacts to the residents. Pinpointing the specific mechanisms that create health-promoting or health-harming conditions in these retail corridors s is crucial to understanding retail’s impact on communities’ health. Developing a scale for scoring business types helps us understand community-specific health outcomes for the neighborhoods near retail corridors; it could also reveal the disparate quality of life impacts that exist in different commercial corridors. With this in mind, the research that follows will examine health disparities within the broader scope of planning and policy practices.
To this end, this project aims to explore the extent to which the concentration of healthy and unhealthy establishments along Los Angeles’s Main streets and retail corridors relate to the sociodemographic characteristics of their adjacent neighborhoods. Questions that frame this research are: Do high ranking businesses appear around places where people tend to be healthier because of socio-economic status? Do high ranking businesses relate to better health for the adjacent population? Methods used in this research include the mapping of Main street retail areas, deploying an index that scores the extent to which the businesses encourage health-promoting behavior, and the analysis of Main street community health outcomes. From the scoring of Main streets across the city, four sites are chosen (based on their median household income and the overall score of their retail environments) to provide a more detailed scope of the built and social environment of these streets. As seen in the research that follows, businesses in areas with higher ranking scores are tied to healthier outcomes. Deliverables of this project include the use of an instrument that measures retail’s association with health outcomes and built environment characteristics in the hopes that it can be used for future planning. This research can be used to inform policies surrounding more inclusive built environments and public spaces.