Online Guide to Planning Healthy Neighborhoods


Online Guide to Planning Healthy Neighborhoods
Understanding the Basics of Land Use and Planning Series

Local officials can provide leadership in many ways to create healthy neighborhoods.

This guide:

  • Identifies the reasons to be concerned about the relationship between health and the built environment.
  • Offers options for transforming that concern into a vision for a healthier community.
  • Provides strategies and examples of how to translate that vision into action.


Image of IntroductionThroughout California, city and county officials make planning, policy and land-use decisions on a weekly basis.


Typical issues that local officials might confront include the following:

  • Can downtown be revitalized by providing a mix of commercial, retail and residential uses?
  • Should a new town-home project be approved to replace a group of old industrial warehouses?
  • How can streets and sidewalks be designed so that people of varied ages and abilities can safely walk, bike or wheel to school, work and shopping?
  • What can be done so that farms and ranches near the community remain productive and economically viable?
  • How could buildings be constructed to conserve natural resources, maximize energy efficiency and create healthy indoor environmental quality for their occupants?

Local officials understand that decisions such as these affect their community’s development. Many also recognize that land-use decisions can have profound effects on residents’ health. A community’s physical design and mix of land uses can create barriers to healthy eating and physical activity. Land use and transportation facilities can expose some individuals to indoor and outdoor environmental pollutants. These in turn can contribute to increased rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, asthma and other serious health conditions.1

Local officials have many reasons to be concerned about the health of their community. Healthy residents are more actively engaged in community life. A healthy work force is attractive to current and potential employers who want to invest in the community. In addition, many local agencies — particularly counties — are responsible for serving the health, welfare and public safety needs of residents. Healthier residents reduce the pressure on tight local budgets to pay for health and social services, public safety, parks and recreation programs, transportation and transit and a number of other local services and facilities.


Health and the Built Environment

Image of Health and the Built Environment Land use can influence health outcomes positively by presenting opportunities for healthy behavior or negatively by restricting access to healthy options. Key land-use characteristics that affect health include:

  • Patterns of land use within a community.
  • The design and construction of spaces and buildings within a community.
  • The transportation systems that connect people to places.

The Healthy Planning Toolkit

Image of The Healthy Planning ToolkitCities and counties make planning and land-use decisions, both small and large, that can enhance health. This section describes a number of ways that local officials can integrate health concerns into the planning and land-use decisions they regularly make.

In addition to the tools described below, look for Ideas for Action - examples of strategies that local agencies can employ on a range of issues to promote healthy neighborhoods.


Tips for Taking Action

Image of Tips for Taking ActionSome of the key challenges that local officials may face when working to improve the health of the built environment include:


  • Assessing needs and understanding special populations;
  • Forging partnerships;
  • Identifying funding and resources; and
  • Reaching and engaging the public.

This section addresses each of these challenges.


Resources and Endnotes

Image of Resources and Endnotes Access a complete list of endnotes featured in the guide and a list of other organizations that can help your community integrate health and the built environment.