Keith Pezzoli, Ph.D., – Promoting Healthy Places, Healthy People, and Rooted Communities through a Bioregional Framework Skip Navigation
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Your Environment. Your Health.

Keith Pezzoli, Ph.D., – Promoting Healthy Places, Healthy People, and Rooted Communities through a Bioregional Framework

August 11, 2017

Keith Pezzoli, Ph.D., director of the Urban Studies and Planning Program, and Teaching Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), is committed to community-engaged research and cross-disciplinary partnerships that support bioregional planning. This approach aims to create healthy places and healthy people by recognizing how cities and neighborhoods are embedded in their larger geographical region.

Keith Pezzoli, Ph.D

Keith Pezzoli, Ph.D. (at far right), advocates for environmental and bioregional justice as a framework for promoting human and ecological health.
(Photo courtesy of Keith Pezzoli)

Specifically, bioregional planning highlights the connection between urban areas and their rural counterparts that produce food, wood, and other important resources.

"The social and ecological systems that provide us with food, energy, and water are increasingly stressed–so much so that the National Science Foundation says we face a serious predicament for the security of these resources. Cumulative environmental public health impacts associated with climate change, ecological degradation, pollution, poverty, obesity and poor nutrition are driving up rates of preventable chronic diseases," said Pezzoli.

Considering this complexity, Pezzoli is an advocate for rooted universities that leverage institutional knowledge and expertise to address key issues in their communities. Together with Robert Tukey, Ph.D., Director of the NIEHS-funded UCSD Superfund Research Program Center (SRP Center) and Mirle Bussell, Ph.D., Director of Field Research in UCSD’s Urban Studies and Planning Program, Pezzoli founded the Bioregional Center for Sustainability Science, Planning and Design.

"The Bioregional Center embraces a theory of change that highlights the importance of mobilizing the grassroots and treetops, and the need to promote local yet globally-minded place-based interventions that are attuned to seeking bioregional resilience and justice," noted Pezzoli.

Connecting Science and Community Needs — Ocean View Growing Grounds

Keith Pezzoli with the Partners at the Ocean View Growing Grounds

Partners at the Ocean View Growing Grounds, pictured with Director Bill Suk, Ph.D., and Program Administrators Michelle Heacock, Ph.D., and Heather Henry, Ph.D., of the NIEHS Superfund Research Program, set up raised gardens to grow healthy nutritious food for the local community.
(Photo courtesy of Keith Pezzoli)

Pezzoli leads the Community Engagement and Research Translation Cores of the UCSD SRP Center. In a collaborative effort led by the Global Action Research Center (Global ARC), the Bioregional Center and UC Global Food Initiative, along with local community groups, and private landowner and residents, the UCSD SRP Center has been helping transform a 20,000 square foot vacant lot into the Ocean View Growing Grounds (OVGG).

Located in Southeast San Diego, the OVGG includes a community garden, a food forest, and neighborhood-based environmental research and learning center. OVGG was initiated as a collaboration between researchers and students at UCSD, local nonprofit organizations, and residents to address the combined effects of poverty, obesity, environmental pollution and degradation, and lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables. This solutions-oriented approach to environmental and public health concerns offers the community a unique place to grow nutritious food, learn about urban agriculture, agroforestry and healthy eating, and to hold community events.

Global ARC, the lead entity establishing the OVGG, won a UCSD Sustainability Award for Outstanding Collaboration. The OVGG collaborative represents the kind of work Pezzoli advocates for in rooting universities to their communities. "OVGG is a shining example of creating a place where residents and non-profits can work with the University on food, water, energy and soil security to create healthy places and healthy people. It provides a platform where collaborating with the community enables research to be a part of their lives and empowers them to make informed decisions or take action to improve their wellbeing. Community engagement also enriches the science by elevating its application in the real world and contributing to the scientific agenda," Pezzoli noted.

Bioregionalism Across Borders

With the UCSD SRP Center, Pezzoli is also involved in partnerships to help reduce exposures to hazardous wastes and to improve environmental public health in the San Diego-Tijuana border region. He uses community-based participatory approaches to engage and learn from community leaders.

Interactive maps of California

Interactive maps support bioregional planning and help link collaborative research and action in the U.S.-Mexico border region.
(Photo courtesy of Keith Pezzoli)

This exchange informs approaches for capacity building in vulnerable communities to identify, prioritize, and address Superfund-related environmental health hazards and issues. He also works with government, industry, and non-profits to build their capacity to use novel technologies to detect and remediate Superfund pollutants.

"The work that we do is very mindful of how regions are interconnected around the world and how we can work together to address issues like environmental pollution, food and water insecurity, climate change, and increasing energy demands through the lens of bioregional justice and by linking human health with regional and ecosystem health," said Pezzoli.

Pezzoli's work highlights the importance of rooted community-university partnerships and translating research into action. With this approach, Pezzoli and his collaborators are embracing a framework that considers the linkages among food, water, and energy systems to move scientific research and communities towards healthy, just, and sustainable futures.

Additional Resources:

Pezzoli K, Leiter RA. 2016. Creating healthy and just bioregions. Rev Environ Health 31(1):103-109. [Abstract] 

Pezzoli, K. 2016. Bioregionalism. In: Keywords for Environmental Studies (Adamson J, Gleason WA, Pellow DN, eds.). New York, NY: New York University Press, 25-28.

Pezzoli K, Kozo J, Ferran K, Wooten W, Gomez GR, Al-Delaimy WK. 2014. One Bioregion/One Health: an integrative narrative for transboundary planning along the US-Mexico border. Glob Soc 28(4):419-440. [Full Text] 

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