Community Planning

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In the U.S. community planning done at the local level (e.g. city or county) is often known as the master plan or general plan (Planning for Healthy Places, 2007).  Community planning at the local government planning is comprehensive and considers the multiple diverse programs and activities that are located within the defined geographic area.  For example, community planning encompasses planning for zoning and land use actions, park and recreation services, police and fire protection, and water and sewage services.  While a number of states have enacted legislation enabling local government planning, most states do not require local government planning (Berke & Godschalk, 2006). Even when it is not mandated, however, local community planning is encouraged and various rules and laws specify the process and contents of local plans, such as inclusion of the entire land subject to the planning, inclusion of all subject matter related to the physical development of the community, and a long time horizon (Kelly, 2010). Community planning can incorporate a number of types of planning: land use, open space, transportation, school siting, and housing.

  • Land use planning:  Planning roads, infrastructure, and boundaries for land uses.  Zoning designates the permitted uses of land.  Mapped zones separate one set of land uses from another and are typically categorized in to the following groups: residential, mixed residential-commercial, commercial, open space, industrial and special (e. g. power plants, sports complexes, airports, shopping centers). For protected or conserved land or water on which development is indefinitely set aside, the term green space or open space is often used.  Parks and recreation along with green space are important features in community planning. Single-use, low-density land development and disconnected street networks have been shown to be positively associated with car dependence and negatively associated with walking and transit use, which affect health by influencing physical activity, obesity, and emissions of air pollutants (Frank et al, 2006).
  • Transportation planning: Transportation and land use planning are inextricably tied together. The placement and design of transportation projects affect the physical environment and displacement of land-uses, for example the shift from residential to highway when a freeway is extended or widened.  While planning for highways and may not be done primarily through local planning, federal law encourages coordination with local land use planning.  Other local transportation planning, however, takes place in the community planning process. The placement and design of transportation projects affect the physical and social environments, impacting air and water quality, noise levels, injury rates, and social capital, all which have profound impacts on health.  For instance, poor air quality from vehicle emissions causes respiratory illness and cardiovascular disease; noise pollution impacts stress levels; automobile centric design affects pedestrian injuries; and, urban sprawl and few opportunities for public transit affects physical activity levels (Frank and Engelke, 2001).
  • School facility planning: While an important consideration in local communities is the siting future school facilities, school boards generally have the power to decide on the location and construction of school facilities.  School boards are thus encouraged to work with the community plan in a coordinated process. School siting potentially affects children's health in a through a variety of ways:  proximity to residence and walking and bicycling routes to school affects physical activity; traffic and use of school buses affect air quality; and, contamination of soil and water on or near school sites affect exposure to toxins (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, 2005).,
  • Housing:  As part of the community plan, housing opportunities for community members of different socioeconomic conditions are typically discussed.  This may include a plan to provide housing for the currently homeless and options for financing homes for families.  Housing planning may also include infrastructure planning in context of land use and transportation. Poor housing conditions can contribute to a variety of health problems.  Poor physical conditions of the home, such as poor insulation, use of combustion appliances, cockroach, rodent and dust mite infestation, and high levels of lead are associated with asthma, neurological damage, malnutrition, stunted growth, accidents, and injury.  Crowded household dwellings can lead to increased exposure to infectious diseases and contributes to stress.  Housing affordability is also an important health determinant. Furthermore, affordable and stable housing can reduce mental stress and its associated health impacts and allows families to spend more on food and health care expenditures (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2008).


  • Berke PR, Godschalk DR. Urban Land Use Planning (5th ed.). Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006. 
  • Frank LD, Engelke PO.  The built environment and human activity patterns: Exploring the impacts of urban form on public health. Journal of Planning Literature 2001 16: 202-218. 
  • Frank LD, Sallis JF, Conway TL, Chapman JE, Saelens BE, Bachman W. Many pathways from land use to health – associations between neighborhood walkability and active transportation, body mass index, and air quality. J Am Plann Assoc. 2006;72(1):75–87. 
  • Kelly ED. Community Planning: An Introduction to the Comprehensive Plan (2nd Edition). Washington D.C.: Island Press, 2010. 
  • National Governors' Association Center for Best Practices.The Impact of School Siting on Children's Health A 5-Part Web Conference Series, 2005. Available at:
  • Planning for Healthy Places.  General Plans and Zoning: A Toolkit on Land Use and Health. California Department of Health Services, 2007.
  • Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Commission to Build a Healthier America.  Where we live matters for our health: the link between housing and health.  Issue Brief 2: Housing and Health. September 2008. 

Policy Actions

  • Commercial and residential redevelopment projects
  • Roadway construction and design
  • Funding and planning for building mass transit
  • New school siting and facility planning
  • Affordable housing projects

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