Community Design for Healthier Communities



Mother with kids crossing street

Healthy Communities…the term seems to be turning up more and more lately…from reports in the media to city and county council meetings-from the smallest of the states legislatures to the hallowed halls of the United States Congress.  Is it latest buzz phrase or truly a movement?


There are a variety of groups (both government and non-profit) working on healthy communities and each of them have their own interpretation of exactly WHAT a healthy community is.  However, I have noticed one thing that most healthy community discussions seem to include…the need to insure that there are ample opportunities for people to engage in physical activity.  The introductory paragraph for the National Physical Activity Plan’s Transportation, Land Use and Community Design sector reads: “Transportation systems, development patterns, and community design and planning decisions all can have profound effects on physical activity. People can lead healthier, more active lives if our communities are built to facilitate safe walking and biking and the use of public transportation, all considered forms of active transportation.” 


Considering how community design affects the amount of physical activity that residents get would go a VERY long way toward positioning individuals to increase their daily physical activity and also plays an important part in creating a healthy community.


Imagine…if all neighborhoods had sidewalks and were well lit….imagine the increase in the number of individuals achieving the amount of physical activity specified for their demographic in the National Physical Activity Guidelines….imagine if all commercial landlords in a community were to insure that office stairwells are open for traffic…and imagine one step further…where the said landlord  (owner or whoever the power that be is) added interesting artwork or motivational signs to the walls in the stairwells.  Imagine if there were bike racks at all train stations-small and large….or if all children were able to walk to school along paved wooded paths…now-imagine how many more Americans would be reaching the recommended amount of daily physical activity.


The National Physical Activity Plan states that “Changes to improve active transportation will require many individuals and agencies – transportation engineers, city planners, architects, schools, health professionals, government agencies at all levels, community advocates, citizens, and employers – to rethink the way we plan and develop our communities. “  It is imperative that a variety of departments work together even if in the past they may not have always agreed on direction. 


I would love to hear some of non-traditional partnerships that have worked effectively to promote healthy communities.  What plans do YOU have to begin to establish a coalition in YOUR community to work toward making it a healthier one?