Healthy Community Initiative
Description: The Healthy Community Initiative was established by the American Planning Association (APA) Arizona Chapter as a way to promote an interdisciplinary approach to creating and maintaining healthy communities. The long-term objectives of the Initiative includes improving the performance of planning agencies throughout Arizona by providing tools, resources, and networks to foster improved collaboration. The Initiative will raise the awareness of local planners so they can bring a more informed health message to the planning process; raise the awareness of local public health officials so they can proactively participate in land use planning decisions; and facilitate long-term partnerships between a broad range of disciplines to design healthier, more resilient communities.
Background: Collaborative partnerships between urban planners and public health professionals emerged from 19th century public health initiatives, including tenement housing reforms, the construction of urban water supply and sewerage systems, and the design of suburban "greenbelt" towns. However, it is clear that the respective missions of the two disciplines have diverged in the last century.
Today land use, community design, and transportation planning decisions have a direct impact on the rate of obesity; incidence of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and mental illness; and pedestrian injury and fatality. Additionally, environmental conditions such as poor air quality, deteriorated housing conditions, and ground and surface water contamination all are influenced by land use planning and all have an impact on public health, especially disadvantaged populations, including minorities, children, and the elderly.
Legacy of Poorly Planned Growth
Poorly planned growth that fails to consider regional implications is often referred to as “sprawl.” Sprawl is a complex pattern of land use, transportation, and social and economic development characterized by:
- The disappearance of farmlands. fields and natural woodlands as cities expand outward and consume once rural or natural areas
- Large tracts of land converted into low-density residential and commercial developments
- Widespread strip commercial development along major transportation corridors
- “Leapfrog” developments with large spaces of vacant land between them
- Lack of centralized land use planning
- Zoning laws that segregate land uses into isolated categories, separating housing from schools, businesses, and recreational areas
- Dominance of the automobile as the primary means of transportation
- Extensive road construction to accommodate the automobile
- Increased traffic congestion, poor air quality, contaminated water and land, and scarce affordable housing
- Less safety for pedestrians, bicyclists, and automobile occupants
Healthy Community Design
In April 2002, the American Planning Association identified six qualities that describe healthy community design. These qualities include the following:
- Have a unique sense of community and place
- Preserve and enhance valuable natural and cultural resources
- Equitably distribute the costs and benefits of development
- Expand the range of transportation, employment, and housing choices in a fiscally responsible manner
- Value long-range, region-wide sustainability rather than short- term, incremental, or geographically isolated actions
- Promote public health and healthy communities
What Are Some Benefits of Healthy Community Design?
- Promotes physical activity.
- Improves air quality.
- Lowers risk of injuries.
- Increases social connection and sense of community.
- Reduces contributions to climate change.
- Encourages food equity.
- Promotes the local production of food
What Are Some Healthy Community Design Principles?
Encourage mixed land use and greater land density to shorten distances between homes, workplaces, schools and recreation so people can walk or bike more easily to them.
- Provide good mass transit to reduce the dependence upon automobiles.
- Build good pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, including sidewalks and bike paths that are safely removed from automobile traffic as well as good right of way laws and clear, easy-to-follow signage.
- Ensure affordable housing is available for people of all income levels.
- Create community centers where people can gather and mingle as part of their daily activities.
- Offer access to green space and parks