Civic Engagement in Planning Can Improve Public Health

In Tarrant County, Texas, residents have been asked to participate in the planning process as a mechanism for engaging with their communities.

Tarrant County is home to a Plan4Health project focused on increasing access to healthy food and engaging with residents is an important component of this work.

Faced with neighborhoods with high prevalence of chronic diseases, including diabetes and obesity, the coalition is developing creative ways to increase access to healthy food by looking at city ordinances and codes. Making changes to these documents has allowed mobile produce vendors to visit otherwise underserved residential areas.

This approach combats food deserts and supports local retailers’ businesses by bringing locally grown fruits and vegetables directly to schools, churches, and neighborhoods where people otherwise lack access to this produce.

How does civic engagement relate to the intersection of public health and planning?

As the two fields have reinvigorated their common roots, the importance of community engagement in building healthy communities is a shared value between planners and public health professionals. This alignment provides a unique opportunity for really elevating the importance of community engagement.

In Texas, the coalition has leveraged media campaigns to increase engagement and improve the dialogue between the community, partners, and stakeholders. The coalition educates residents about how the health of communities is directly affected by the build environment and local policy.

Linda Fulmer, executive director of Plan4Health Tarrant County, emphasizes that at the local level, many of the decisions that drive how communities are redesigned and built are determined by people who volunteer to serve on their local planning and zoning commissions.

Hear directly from Fulmer in this podcast and learn more about Tarrant County’s work on the Plan4Health website and in the Plan4Health blog post Increasing Healthy Food Access through Mobile Vending.

If you live in Fort Worth are interested in learning more, visit the City Plan Commission website and the Zoning Commission website. If not, find out more about your local planning and zoning commissions, and tap into APA’s resources on civic engagement to learn about how you can get involved to make your community healthier through planning strategies.

About the Author
Aliza Stein Norcross, MPH, is a project associate in APA's Planning and Community Health Center.

October 24, 2016

By Aliza Norcross