Race and Place

The Influence of Place on Health

Where we live has a huge impact on our health. Our street address determines:

  • Our access to parks and playgrounds.
  • Our access to healthy foods.
  • Our access to job opportunities.
  • The quality of the air we breathe.
  • The safety of the streets we walk on.
  • The quality of the schools our children attend.

All of these essentials influence our risk for today's most common chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, heart disease and asthma. An individual who lives in a neighborhood without sidewalks, parks or healthy foods would have a greater risk of obesity than an individual in a healthier neighborhood.

The History of Race and Place

Our state has neighborhoods that support health by having the essentials and neighborhoods that don't. Our racial and ethnic background has a huge impact on which neighborhood conditions we live in.

Past policies and practices have supported residential segregation in the more populated areas of our state. Up until the Fair Housing Act of 1968, residential segregation or “red-lining” practices were completely legal. This meant that for decades, people of color residents in cities were limited to living in a handful of inner-city neighborhoods while white residents could live anywhere else in the city or suburbs.

These practices forced people of color Washingtonians to live in certain places. Over time, these places received insufficient resources to support the essentials for a healthy neighborhood. At the same time, white neighborhoods received the resources necessary to build parks, fund schools, improve street safety, and increase the value of their homes.

The disparities we see between neighborhoods today are a result of discriminatory practices, structural racism and deep-rooted inequities.

Current-day Racial and Geographic Inequities

Even with the Fair Housing Act and other Civil Rights Act legislation, racial inequities still exist throughout our state. It takes time to undo the policies and practices that cause inequities, but it is work that must be done to improve our entire public's health.

Our work must start with a focus on community environments. Research shows that racial inequity leads to toxic community conditions. These toxic conditions are challenging to overcome, even for individuals determined to rise above them. We need healthy communities if we want to improve individual health and undo inequities. Building health communities starts with looking at both race and place in everything we do.

Race is a central consideration for the healthy communities' movement. Race has shaped our regions, creating places that offer profoundly unequal opportunities to their residents. In many ways, race remains our deepest divide. Effective strategies to build healthy, vibrant, sustainable communities must address both race and place, openly and authentically.

PolicyLink, Why Race and Place Matter

More Resources

PolicyLink, Why Race and Place Matters Report (PDF)

University of Washington, Seattle Civil Rights & History Project, Segregated Seattle

The National Association for County and City Health Officials, Roots of Inequity

The Community Guide's Model for Linking the Social Environment to Health (PDF)