Physician lectures on health, global warming at School of Architecture

“Build smarter, live longer” – that’s the four-word prescription Richard Jackson offered Friday night at the School of Architecture to help fight social ills such as pollution, global warming and lower life expectancy.

Jackson, a physician who chairs Environmental Health Sciences at UCLA, told a crowd of students, professors and alumni in Glasgow Hall that though the “environment is rigged against us,” the use of innovative methods of architectural design in our communities may be the best bet for a clear solution. 

Jackson said the increase in illnesses such as diabetes and obesity is linked to “how we build and develop the physical environment,” a field in which he is regarded as a national expert. 

He added that “the essence of public health [is found in the following question]: What are the causes of the cause of death?” He lists examples such as air pollution being a result of how we build our cities and our roads and water pollution being directly linked to how we construct our sewer systems and handle runoff in our communities.

An array of graphs passed across the screen, detailing various statistics in Jackson’s presentation while confirming that “we are [being] profoundly shaped by our environment.” He cited a study that showed the more time spent driving [rather than walking], the more likely your chances of becoming obese; and how the inexpensive act of supersizing a fast-food order can actually “add an ounce of fat to your body.” You may want to think twice before taking the shuttle to get to that class across campus, especially if you just ate Wendy’s for lunch.

Jackson, who sits on the board of the American Institute of Architects, suggests building communities that reward, enable and make it enjoyable to take a walk. He said to highlight pleasant, attractive stairways where people may like to gather by placing them in a prominent position within buildings, while shrinking elevators from plain view.

Other tips he gives are to include windows as sources of natural light and to think of ways to use less energy through such means as lighting, refrigeration and air conditioning. But the change in our environment covers more than just office buildings – it has to permeate our suburbs, schools, hospitals and other institutions as well.

Jackson stated that “a 10 percent increase in urban parks would decrease urban surface temperatures by four degrees Fahrenheit,” assuring the audience that we can cool our environment despite the looming presence of global warming.

Sophomore Henrique Takayama said he was amazed by the information in Jackson’s lecture. Before coming to Miami he lived in Virginia, where he remarked how “the trails there really influenced and enticed walking – I definitely understood [Jackson’s] point when I saw Miami.”