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Community Assessment Project

The Built Environment



CEHI Field Team members planning the assessment.Photo courtesy of the Herald Sun, 2008.

Many cities are beginning to consider the state of the built environment when planning urban development and revitalization projects.  Deteriorating housing, crime, unemployment, poor schools, and inadequate access to health care can create a network of conditions that negatively impact the well-being of individuals and communities.  This may be especially true for low-income and minority communities, with significant health implications for both children and adults.  

Elements of the built environment can influence health outcomes through direct exposure as well as indirectly by creating social stress and influencing patterns of risky behavior.  The built environment includes:

  • residential and commercial buildings
  • roads and sidewalks
  • businesses, churches, schools, and community centers
  • parks and play areas
  • empty lots and vacant structures

The Children’s Environmental Health Initiative (CEHI) seeks to understand the relationship between the built environment and public health, and to work with the community to identify ways to improve Durham’s built environment.

The Project

Motivated by increasing evidence regarding the relationship between public health and the built environment, the Community Assessment Project was conceived with two key goals:

  • Provide community members with maps of the built environment to support residents’ efforts to improve quality of life; and
  • Better understand the relationship between the built environment and health.

CEHI first conducted the Community Assessment Project during the summer of 2008.  In an effort to map the changes in Durham communities over time, and the impact those changes have on community health, CEHI conducted the assessment again during the summer of 2011.

The Community Assessment Project looked at:

  • Housing characteristics
  • Neighborhood conditions
  • Community resources
  • Access to food and health care
  • Neighborhood safety
  • Demographics

Conducting the Assessment

From May to August 2008, CEHI canvassed over 17,000 tax parcels (properties) in Durham using a standardized visual assessment of building exteriors. Presence of sidewalks and nuisance variables like graffiti and litter were recorded, as were community assets such as religious institutions, parks, and community centers. The assessment was conducted using handheld computers equipped with global positioning system (GPS) technology.

Beginning in May 2011, CEHI data collectors undertook another assessment in Durham, canvassing over 30,700 tax parcels.  The area included the neighborhoods assessed in 2008, as well as communities north of Interstate 85, east of Highway 70, and southwest of Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway.  This expansion significantly increased the area included in the Community Assessment Project.

Figure 1 shows the areas included in the Community Assessment Project.  The 2008 project area (dark blue) covered most residential neighborhoods in Durham’s urban core while the 2011 project area expanded to three additional neighborhoods (light blue).

Mapping the Data

The neighborhood outlines in Figure 1 are based on boundaries that were provided to CEHI by the Durham Department of Geographic Information Systems (GIS).  In some cases, CEHI modified these outlines to expand the area covered by the Community Assessment Project.  Data were collected on every individual tax parcel (each building and the land on which it is located) in each neighborhood.

Neighboring tax parcels can be grouped into blocks, which roughly correspond to city blocks, and are defined by the US Census Bureaus.  Neighboring blocks can be grouped into larger areas such as neighborhoods. The maps presented in this report take data collected for individual tax parcels and aggregate up to the Census block level.

To supplement the data collected by CEHI during the summer and fall of 2011, CEHI obtained additional data from external sources, including:

  • The Durham County Tax Assessor’s Office
  • The Durham Police Department
  • The U.S. Census 2010
  • Business directories

The Full Report

The full 2008 written and illustrated report (19mb PDF)

The full current written and illustrated report (11mb PDF)


View the entire collection of maps from the current report

View an interactive map with data from the current report



CEHI Field Team members conduct assessment on the built environment.
Photo courtesy of the Herald Sun, 2008.

CEHI Field Team members conduct assessment on the built environment.
Photo courtesy of the Herald Sun, 2008.