Growing evidence demonstrates a strong relationship between our health and the environments in which we live. The way our neighborhoods, streets, and homes are designed affects whether children can play outside and walk to school, whether families can access basic goods and services, and even whether neighbors can socialize and look out for one another.
Our neighborhoods are shaped by specific policies that guide development and, consequently, our well-being. The disproportionately high rates of chronic disease among residents living in high-poverty neighborhoods — often disproportionately residents of color — can be linked to many aspects of the built environment, including access to healthy foods and physical activity, quality affordable housing, and transportation options.
Health inequities frequently reflect the socioeconomic divide between poor and affluent neighborhoods: a recent San Francisco Bay Area report showed that residents in poor neighborhoods can expect to live at least ten years less than those living in other areas (see Health Inequities in the Bay Area).
The Healthy Planning Guide was developed to help public health departments engage in the planning process and work with planners to develop policies that can create healthier environments and support health equity. The information is organized according to key risk factors, highlighting some associated health outcomes and how they relate to the built environment. For each major risk factor, we suggest policies to consider in the planning process and ways for public health professionals to get involved. We also list a cadre of public agencies and community partners for potential collaboration on policy solutions.
A companion document, the Physical Environment Agency Resource, provides additional information on public agencies, their structure, and the decision-making process so that public health departments can influence policy solutions to support community health infrastructure and health equity. The companion document will be available by winter 2009, and will be posted on this website.
This guide is designed to be illustrative, not exhaustive, providing a broad overview of development strategies for healthier communities. For more information about the connections between planning and community health, see www.healthyplanning.org.