The Built Environment: Communities as Complex Systems

One of the fastest growing areas in the study of community health in complex systems terms is the built environment literature.

The built environment refers to the human-made surroundings that provide the setting for human activity, ranging from large-scale civic surroundings to smaller settings such as work and home.

The term is also now widely used to describe the interdisciplinary field of study which addresses the design, management and use of these human-made surroundings and their relationship to the human activities which take place within them. The field draws upon a wealth of disciplines and areas of study including geography, urban planning, epidemiology, computational and spatial economics, law, medicine, health care, medical sociology, management, architecture, and design and technology.

An excellent website that has devoted considerable attention to this topic is The Prevention Institute. Check it out for more information, in particular their PDF on eleven communities that have implemented programs to improve the built environment.

Other places to explore include:

1. The Center for the Built Environment at Berkeley.

2. The Built Environment Blog.

3. The Built Environment and Health at Columbia University.


  1. This is great!! I really did not realize how much actually goes into the built environment. There are many, many steps that are taken before creating these wonderful and beautiful man-made surroundings that we have. It is incredible and you really have shined some light on this subject for me. The other blogs were really great to read as well. You definitely learn something new everyday!

    Eleni T.

  2. Wow! I have never realized how much effort is being placed in this built environment. It seems to me that not only does a built environment shape the way people function in society but also how we live. Everything that we do in our daily lives is some how connected to this man made environment, whether people realize this or not. Thanks a lot for the informing blog, i never really pictured our society the way this blog describes it.

    Jordan R.


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