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Davidson, North Carolina

This website is archived for historical purposes and is no longer being maintained or updated.

The Healthy Community Design Initiative, also known as the Built Environment and Health Initiative, is no longer a funded program and the information on this website is not being reviewed and updated on a regular basis.


The Town of Davidson, North Carolina, initiated Davidson Design for Life (DD4L) to foster healthy community design through health impact assessments (HIA), public participation, and collaboration in Davidson, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg region, and North Carolina. The mission of DD4L is to help Davidson be a community that is healthy today and even healthier tomorrow, while serving as a model for other small towns by implementing healthy design.

2011–2014 HIA Accomplishments

Comprehensive Plan Update

This HIA analyzed the current Davidson Comprehensive Plan and progress toward achieving the plan’s goals. The HIA provided recommendations to strengthen the positive health elements of the plan to further support healthy community design efforts and better address the health of Davidson residents. The findings of the HIA guided the 2015 Davidson Comprehensive Plan update and provided a foundation for future planning efforts to consider health implications.

Davidson Street Design Standards

This HIA assessed the potential health impacts of Davidson’s existing street design standards and proposed recommendations to promote the health of Davidson residents by supporting all types of transportation—driving, walking, bicycling, and taking public transit. Specifically, analysis of the existing standards identified health-promoting portions of the standards to keep, portions that could be improved upon to promote health more effectively, and portions that might be harmful to health and should be eliminated. DD4L shared HIA recommendations with the Davidson Board of Commissioners, Planning Ordinance Committee, Planning Board, and Livability Committee. The recommendations helped guide the 2013 revision of Davidson’s planning ordinance as well as the Davidson Walks and Rolls Active Transportation Plan.

Davidson Walks and Rolls: Active Transportation Plan

This rapid HIA examined the proposed Davidson Walks and Rolls: Active Transportation Plan. In addition to providing evidence for the benefits of walking and bicycling, the HIA mapped health, environmental, and socioeconomic data to identify high priority areas of the town for future pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure improvements. The Active Transportation Plan includes the HIA findings and recommendations as an appendix. The Davidson Board of Commissioners adopted the entire Active Transportation Plan, which helped support additional funding for pedestrian and bicycle facility improvements.

Local Food System Plan

This HIA assessed the existing local food system in Davidson, North Carolina. The HIA recommended ways to increase access to healthy, local foods and encourage vulnerable populations (children, low income residents) to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. The HIA increased awareness of the importance of comprehensive food system planning and the health benefits of eating healthy, locally grown foods. Also, the HIA strengthened the connections between stakeholders concerned with food security, production, distribution, and consumption and helped lay the groundwork for a future local food policy council.

Parks, Recreation, and Public Spaces Master Plan

This HIA was part of the planning process for Davidson’s Parks, Recreation, and Public Spaces Master Plan. The HIA described how parks and recreation can affect all seven dimensions of wellness (i.e., physical, environmental, emotional, social, intellectual, spiritual, and occupational), proposed indicators for measuring wellness outcomes related to parks and recreation, and recommended ways for Davidson’s parks and recreation system to improve health. As a result of the HIA, the final draft of the plan incorporated the seven dimensions of wellness as a framework for assessing the existing system, measuring performance, establishing plan priorities, and developing a vision for the future. The Town of Davidson adopted the Parks and Recreation Master Plan, with the HIA report as an appendix, in November 2014.

Red Line Regional Commuter Rail

This HIA demonstrated the possible health impacts of converting 25 miles of existing Norfolk Southern rail lines between nearby Mooresville and Charlotte to handle more freight travel and add commuter train service. The Red Line Project proposed making Mooresville (located 7 miles from Davidson) a transit stop, thus offering residents of Davidson access to commuter rail service to Charlotte. DD4L shared the findings and recommendations of the HIA with the Red Line Task Force, a standing committee that searches for ways to finance and advance the project. The Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization also used the HIA as a case study in revising its long-range transportation plan. Read more in A Small Town Assesses a Big Rail Project.

Senate Bill 731: Zoning and Design Standards

This HIA examined the potential health impacts of North Carolina’s proposed Senate Bill 731 (SB731) that would amend zoning legislation to make certain building design standards not applicable to low density, single family, residential neighborhoods. Specifically, this HIA addressed how having fewer porches and garages that protrude from the front of houses could affect physical activity, safety, and social cohesion of North Carolina residents by creating neighborhoods that emphasize automobile travel over walking and biking. The HIA findings influenced the Davidson Board of Commissioners to pass a resolution against SB731 that included language promoting health. SB731, first passed by the North Carolina Senate in May 2011, did not become law, but a revised bill was introduced in a subsequent session. DD4L presented a brief analysis of the revised legislation and the findings of the original HIA to the municipalities of Huntersville and Cornelius, the North Carolina League of Municipalities, and the North Carolina Chapter of the American Planning Association. The North Carolina League of Municipalities shared the HIA findings during a meeting with Senate Speaker Tillis to help shape the state’s ongoing conversation about the role of municipal authority in neighborhood and housing design.

Universal Design in Single-Family Housing

This HIA examined the mental and physical health impacts of incorporating universal design and visitability features into construction of new single-family homes and townhomes in Davidson, North Carolina. “Universal design” ensures environments can be accessed, understood, and used to the greatest extent possible by all people, regardless of age, size, or ability. “Visitability” refers to constructing homes that people with impaired mobility can live in or visit easily. The three key features of visitability are at least one zero-step entrance, wide passage doors, and a bathroom on the main floor. The HIA concluded that homes built in accordance with visitability features would improve mental health (e.g., decreased isolation, increased empowerment) and physical health (e.g., decreased falls and injuries) for persons with mobility impairments and allow older adults to remain in their homes as they age. The HIA recommended that visitability features be required or encouraged in new construction. The Town of Davidson is considering a revision to the planning ordinance to include a zero-step entry for all newly-constructed homes.

Worksite Wellness

This HIA analyzed the current state of worksite wellness programs among major employers in Davidson, North Carolina. DD4L shared the HIA recommendations for improving worksite wellness and the potential health impacts of implementing these recommendations with major employers in the area.

Tools and Resources for HIA Practitioners

The Davidson Design for Life Program

  • Coordinated and hosted the Southeast Regional HIA Summit in 2013 and 2014
  • Conducted six HIA trainings and developed an HIA training case study
  • Created a documentary and HIA training video
  • Defined the seven dimensions of wellness and provided links to available literature for each dimension
  • Developed a walking and wheeling safety brochure
  • Created a policy brief recommending ways to incorporate universal design and visitability into new single-family and townhouse construction


  • Davidson College
  • Davidson Design for Life Regional Advisory Commission
  • Mecklenburg County Health Department
  • North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services
  • North Carolina Department of Transportation
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  • Page last reviewed: March 20, 2017 (archived document)
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