Land Use and Community Design

What’s Your Role?

Land Use and Community Design

Land Use and Community Design Icon

What’s Your Role?

Land Use and Community Design

Land Use and Community Design Icon

As a land use planner, architect, urban designer, or real estate developer, you can help design communities where people can safely and easily walk, bike, wheelchair roll, and use public transit to get to everyday destinations. You can also help communities promote equitable community investment that benefits all residents.

Most Americans live in communities that have policies to guide how land will be developed or redeveloped. These policies include comprehensive or master plans and associated zoning laws. Local planners can help improve communities by ensuring that master plans include the creation of activity-friendly routes to everyday destinations for all residents. Benefits include:

  • Less dependence on automobiles because homes, businesses, schools, churches, and parks will be closer to each other so that people can more easily walk, bike, roll, or take public transit between them.
  • More ways for people to be physically active and socially engaged as part of their daily routine, which improves their physical and mental health.
  • More communities that accommodate the changing lifestyles, needs, and physical capabilities of older adults, allowing them to “age in place.”
email_03Want to stay informed about Active People, Healthy NationSM?

Sign up today!

What Can You Do?

You can use the following strategies to encourage physical activity in your community:

Design places that make it safer and easier for people to walk, bike, or wheelchair roll to everyday destinations and be physically active for recreation.

  • Incorporate mixed land use development by combining residential, commercial, recreational, and educational land uses so people can live, work, shop, learn, worship, and play at places that are close to each other.
  • Discourage sprawl, which is the expansion of poorly planned, low-density, auto-dependent development.
  • Encourage higher residential density, where appropriate, to make it easier for people to use public transit or active transportation (walking, biking, or wheelchair rolling) to get to everyday places.
  • Shorten distances between homes, schools, worksites, businesses, parks, recreational facilities, and other common community destinations, such as libraries, community centers, and places of worship.
  • Support equitable transit-oriented development and easy connections to safe and efficient public transit systems.
Want more proven ways to increase physical activity?

Active People, Healthy NationSM has many strategies that work. Visit the website to find options that fit your needs. Look for ways to collaborate with other sectors.

Promote equitable policies and programs that make it safe and easy for all residents to be physically active.

  • Use input from community members and consultants to identify, test, and adopt equitable planning, land use, and development policies and associated zoning regulations that preserve affordability and avoid residential and commercial displacement.
  • Use urban design strategies that foster safe neighborhoods, streets, and outdoor spaces to prevent injuries and fatalities.
  • Promote housing policies that ensure a variety of housing options near worksites, essential services, and public transit hubs for all residents.
  • Identify and test equitable approaches that promote development in neighborhoods with historic underinvestment or higher chronic disease risks.
  • Create partnerships, programs, and initiatives that ensure that community members have an ongoing role in how land use and zoning decisions are made.

Seek input from residents and educate them about the benefits of safe physical activity and places to be active.

  • Use community walk audits to identify current land uses, housing options, opportunities for active transportation and recreational physical activity, and future community needs. These audits should be done during the day and at night and include listening sessions, photo sharing, and community design events with residents of different ages, income levels, races, ethnicities, and abilities.
  • Use low-cost demonstrations, such as pop-up retail shops, mini parks, and seasonal event spaces to get community feedback on innovative land use opportunities.
A City at Sunset

What Others Are Doing

These land use planners are using effective strategies to increase physical activity in their communities.

Working Together in Hawaii
Planners in Kaua’i County involved thousands of community members in their efforts to address problems that were affecting residents’ quality of life. The result was an award-winning plan that reflects the needs and desires of community members of all ages and walks of life. The county’s new general plan incorporates information about the local cultural heritage, as well as issues related to equity and health. It also includes plans to increase activity-friendly routes to everyday destinations.

Making Activity Easier in Washington
Greenbridge is a diverse, low-income, low-density neighborhood in Seattle-King County. County officials created a master plan that called for adding recreational facilities to increase physical activity among residents. Land use and building codes were changed to allow for the creation of pedestrian paths, open spaces, and creative placemaking. These changes helped provide new recreational opportunities for residents of different ages and abilities. Officials also expanded the neighborhood to include mixed-use housing.

Making Parks More Equitable in Pennsylvania
After extensive community outreach and data collection, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and the City of Pittsburgh developed a plan to improve the quality of all parks in all city neighborhoods. They used feedback from public surveys of thousands of residents to set priorities for maintenance, capital improvements, and recreation programming. They also focused on improving parks and recreation facilities in neighborhoods with the highest need.

Making Homes More Affordable in Minnesota
In Minneapolis, changes to the zoning code have resulted in support for more affordable housing.  A recent update of the city’s comprehensive plan allows duplexes and triplexes to be built in areas formerly zoned exclusively for single-family dwellings.

Building Healthy Communities in Colorado
Aria Denver was designed from the beginning with health in mind. Residents at the multi-family residential property have access to affordable apartments, as well as activity-friendly amenities like public transit, biking and walking trails, and sheltered bike storage. An on-site community garden, pay-as-you-can farm stand, and fitness classes provide residents with opportunities for physical activity, healthy food, and social interaction. Residents can also bike to the nearby Clear Creek Bike Trail.

Resources to Help You

  • Building Healthy Corridors [PDF-5.0MB]
    This report is designed for a variety of audiences, including real estate developers, community planners, public and elected officials, public health professionals, transportation professionals, nonprofit leaders, and community decision makers. It provides guidance, strategies, and insights for transforming commercial corridors into places that support health for people who live, work, and travel along them.
  • Creating Walkable & Bikeable Communities [PDF-62.6MB]
    This document can help community leaders and elected officials in rural, suburban, and smaller urban cities learn more about the range of options for creating bicycling and pedestrian facilities in their communities. It provides tools, techniques, and samples to help strengthen the link between land use planning, street design, and active transportation and to increase options for cycling and walking.
  • Health in Transportation Corridor Planning Framework
    This framework aims to support efforts by transportation agencies to incorporate issues related to health and health equity into corridor planning studies.
  • How to Create and Implement Healthy Comprehensive Plans [PDF-2.7MB]
    This toolkit helps planners and public health officials create healthier communities through comprehensive planning. It gives advice on using health-supporting policies and creating interdisciplinary partnerships. It provides steps that can build on each other without a fixed entry point. It also focuses on engagement, from building relationships and assessing existing conditions to creating and using policy language.
  • Long-Range Planning for Health, Equity & Prosperity: A Primer for Local Governments [PDF-9.8MB]
    This document offers a framework and broad guidance on how planners, local leaders, advocates, researchers, and consultants can prioritize health and equity. It explains how to integrate health and equity into everyday practice and decision-making related to long-range planning, community engagement, investment, and evaluation processes.
  • National Physical Activity Plan: Transportation, Land Use, and Community Design [PDF-9.39MB]
    The National Physical Activity Plan provides policy and programmatic recommendations to increase physical activity. It includes strategies and tactics that communities, organizations, and individuals in the transportation, land use, and community design sectors can use to support physically active lifestyles.
  • The State of Transportation and Health Equity [PDF-3.9MB]
    This report shares results of a field scan that identified challenges to health equity in transportation systems. It provides strategies and tools to address the problems identified and create more equitable systems.
  • Toolkit to Integrate Health Equity Into Comprehensive Plans [PDF-1.85MB]
    This toolkit can help community planners address health and equity in their comprehensive plans and processes. It includes model language about goals, policies, and action items for promoting equity and participation in healthy community planning.
Connect with Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity