The East Aldine District (EAD), located in unincorporated Harris County, Texas, just north of downtown Houston, was established by the state Legislature to enhance the physical, social, and economic well-being of East Aldine. The EAD’s services are sustained by a 1-cent retail sales tax and are guided by a service plan to respond to issues and identify improvements for the district. This includes public safety, mobility and transportation, and water and sewer infrastructure.
In coordination with multiple entities, including the Harris County Public Infrastructure Department (HCPID), the EAD proposed a new town center that will incorporate retail and commercial development, including a new college campus and a 911 call center. Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services (HCPHES) conducted an HIA to examine how these plans may influence health-related factors, such as safe pedestrian access to and within the town center. The HIA will inform and provide recommendations to the district and the HCPID as they develop the plans.
The assessment consisted of (1) a systematic literature review of selected built environment features and their impact on health; (2) data collection and analysis of existing infrastructure and connectivity near the town center site; (3) analysis of existing health data for the EAD; (4) consultation with experts and stakeholders, including key informant interviews and focus groups with community members; and (5) economic and health impact analyses of proposed town center countermeasures, points of interest, and amenities. The HIA found that the proposed town center may lead to greater physical activity; better access to recreational facilities, healthy foods, and health care; and a rise in pedestrian-vehicle injuries due to increased vehicular traffic. The report recommended maximizing the development’s potential health benefits by providing incentives for an affordable grocery store in the town center; making the area attractive to pedestrians and cyclists; building a network of trails and well-lit sidewalks throughout the community; and promoting cooperation between the EAD and community health workers. To prevent a rise in pedestrian injury, the report suggested analyzing crash reports from the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and the Houston-Galveston Area Council for effective crash reduction strategies.
To conduct the HIA, the HCPHES collaborated with the EAD, the HCPID, and other key stakeholders, including developers, community-based organizations, and residents. Additionally, the HIA was included in a comparative analysis to examine the capacity for HIA within various levels of local government in this region.
The Harris County Built Environment Unit presented the HIA’s findings and recommendations to the East Aldine Management District board of directors and community stakeholders. Developers have since broken ground on the Town Center using a revised plan that incorporated several of the HIA’s recommendations, including sidewalks, lighting, and trail connections to nearby Keith-Wiess Park. Future development will feature the addition of trails, recreation spaces for children and families, and an amphitheater.
The HIA also informed the management district’s application to the Houston-Galveston Area Council to conduct a livable centers planning study that would further explore economic development opportunities in East Aldine. The management district has used data from the HIA report to advocate for more sidewalks in the community, especially near schools. Harris County staff report that the HIA process strengthened relationships between the East Aldine Management District and the county government.
This Health Impact Assessment Report first appeared in The Cross-Sector Toolkit for Health. The Cross-Sector Toolkit for Health was originally developed by the Health Impact Project, formerly a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts. The creation of this resource was supported by a grant from the Health Impact Project. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Pew Charitable Trusts, or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.