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September 24, 2015 6:46 PMCategory: Nutrition, Physical Activity

Planning and Community Health: Making the Case for Healthy Communities

This entry is re-posted from the APA Sustaining Places Blog. To read more from APA, click here.

Where we live greatly influences our quality of life and our health. We know that planners have the opportunity to impact walkability, access to services, transportation options — and more — to create vibrant, healthy communities.

But how do we get there?

APA’s Planning and Community Health (PCH) Center promotes health-oriented planning at all levels to benefit all citizens, and provides resources to support planners in their efforts to get there.

Even with all of the known benefits of active living and nutritious food, it can still feel daunting to make the case for change. Bike lanes would be a great addition to the main streets in town, but if your city is still recovering from the road diet debacle of 2012, broaching that change might not seem too appealing. Starting a food systems conversation — and connecting local farms to elementary schools in your county — feels less and less plausible when the president of the school board just wants to promote the new football stadium.

The PCH Center develops tools and trainings to make the connection between planning and health easier to see, easier to talk about, and easier to share with community members, elected officials, engineers, and fellow planners you work with every day.

Check out a few new resources from PCH:

► Benefits of Street-scale Features for Walking and Bicycling

Through a partnership with Active Living Research, this project examined how different street features, either independently or in combination with one another, can promote physical activity. The research also explored other potential co-benefits to such features, with special focus on economic and social outcomes.

► Guidance for Health in the Development Review Process

Guidance for Health in the Development Review Process addresses the why and how of incorporating health into the development review process. Intended primarily for public-sector planners at the city and county levels, this guidance document is designed to support planners with the regulatory aspect of implementing a project that incorporates elements of these and other resources. APA hopes the information and resources in this document will assist planners’ efforts to promote health in their communities. To our knowledge, this is the first document of its kind designed with planners in mind. Each of the four sections builds on the previous one, presenting more detailed and applied direction for how health can be considered in context-sensitive environments and what planners can do to lead the way in creating healthy communities.

► Safe Routes to Parks

Access to green space ties directly to a person’s health and well-being — a connection now widely supported by evidence and accepted by policy makers. Today, ensuring access to green space for all people is a value that should be shared by every resident, community group, and government official. Planners can facilitate increased access to parks and green space through their jobs and community responsibilities.

This fact sheet and accompanying web supplements address the unique role of city and regional planners in fostering an environment that establishes Safe Routes to Parks. Aimed at planning and parks directors and commissioners, this handout defines the concept of Safe Routes to Parks, outlines the plans, policies, and strategies that planners can pursue, and identifies examples of communities that are establishing Safe Routes to Parks.

► Health Benefits of Green Infrastructure

Green infrastructure is the integration of nature and ecosystems in cities, towns, and regions to generate multiple benefits, such as clean air, better stormwater management, and public health. At the regional scale, it is a planned network of natural areas and open spaces, such as parks and nature preserves, river corridors, greenways and trails, and forests and wetlands. At the neighborhood and site scales, it includes parks, rain gardens, green streets, green walls and roofs, community gardens, and the urban forest. This fact sheet addresses how green infrastructure can improve individual and community health, information that is useful for city and regional planners, public health professionals, municipal officials, and community leaders.

In addition to these new resources, the PCH Center will soon release a report on the State of Health Impact Assessments (HIAs) in Planning. HIAs have been used by the planning profession to better understand the health impacts of proposed plans, policies, and actions on neighborhoods and communities.  The State of HIAs in Planning presents analysis on these HIAs and the use of HIAs within planning practice. The analysis in this report is the first of its kind that has looked at the current state of HIAs within planning practice.

PCH has also partnered with the American Public Health Association (APHA) and to support local coalitions across the country through the Plan4Health project. Check out the latest news and upcoming events on — and don’t miss the recent release of six toolkits to support the connection between planning and public health.

Listen one of the many webinars PCH has offered over the last couple of years:

We are dedicated to understanding how planners can best include health in their work. With the support and expertise of our partners and members, PCH is continuing to advance the conversation about healthy planning.

Let us know what you need or what you are achieving in your community! Email comments, thoughts, and experiences to