Chapter 1: Introduction
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For in general you will find assimilated to the nature of the land both the physique and the characteristics of the inhabitants. (Hippocrates, 1948: 137) The first decade of the twenty-first century was for British urban planning something of a rerun of the first decade of the twentieth century: planning was heralded as a powerful new antidote to urban public health problems. A hundred years ago, the cause was the abysmal conditions in cities that had emerged by the middle of the nineteenth century and the consequent successive waves of public health-related legislation that eventually gave rise to the modern British planning system at the dawn of the new century. This time around, it was an epidemic in obesity allied with growing concerns over the health outcomes of unequal cities, marginalized groups and problem neighbourhoods and a shift in perspective amongst epidemiologists that favoured a holistic view of health, health problems and interventions and led them to view urban planning as the ultimate public health intervention: Understanding the urban factors that are risk or protective factors for health can capitalize on the positive aspects of urban living and lead to the development of appropriate interventions and preventive measures. Given the growing predominance of the urban living, interventions that take into account features of the urban environment have the potential to be widely applicable and to influence the health of vast number of people. (Vlahov and Galea, 2003)