This blog post is part of the Everyday Destinations series, which focuses on increasing physical activity in small and rural communities through everyday destinations.
Communities around the country are adopting built environment improvements that support connected networks for nonmotorized modes of transportation, such as biking and walking. These improvements provide social, environmental, health, and economic benefits to a community.
To attain these benefits, planning departments, public health agencies, and other related professions can collaborate to implement strategies that address needs identified by community members. One way for these professionals to help improve community members' health and quality of life is by encouraging networks of accessible, inclusive everyday destinations connected by activity-friendly routes.
Everyday destinations, such as stores, schools, worksites, libraries, parks, restaurants, cultural and natural landmarks, and healthcare facilities that people can get to by modes such as walking, rolling, and biking, are key to encouraging active lifestyles. Communities with a mix of everyday destinations connected by activity-friendly routes can meet the diverse needs of people who do not use personal vehicles as primary modes of transportation. It can also inspire people who primarily travel using personal vehicles to try active transportation options they may not usually consider.
Greater connectivity to a mix of destinations accessible by active modes of transportation can benefit small and rural communities in ways that extend beyond the health of individuals. It can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve air quality, and increase road safety. Greater connectivity to a mix of destinations can also enhance community character, improve access to essential services, encourage economic development, and create opportunities to interact with nature.
Small and rural communities may face particular challenges to creating greater connectivity to a mix of destinations:
- Community members may have reservations about increasing the proximity of destinations, which can create a barrier to co-locating community services, businesses, and homes.
- Municipalities may have limited resources and inadequate technical support to implement projects that encourage physical activity.
- Concerns about how a project might change community character may reduce interest in or support for projects.
- Communities seeking economic development may also be concerned about a developer withdrawing a proposal if the changes requested by a planning agency to align with the community's vision increase the developer's project costs.
Addressing these and other challenges requires collaboration and communication among community members, partners, local practitioners, and elected officials.
Further, small and rural communities have varying levels of resources and competing priorities to enact change. An affluent rural community with established processes will encounter different challenges than a community with a similar population size but less access to financial resources. These conditions, among others, affect how planning approaches can be implemented using available resources. The case examples used in this blog series come from small and rural communities with different characteristics, such as levels of resources and population; however, they may not capture the wide range of conditions experienced by small and rural communities. Communities with limited resources may benefit from partnering with neighboring municipalities, seeking alternative sources of funding, and receiving technical assistance to advance local goals.
Many communities may be affected by policies and historic underinvestment that disproportionately reduce access to a mix of accessible everyday destinations in certain areas, causing adverse impacts on health and reducing opportunities to engage in physical activity.
A variety of decisions can contribute to a fragmented network of inaccessible, everyday destinations, such as highway construction through previously connected neighborhoods, zoning restrictions that limit the mix of destinations and types of housing, or deferred maintenance on public amenities such as parks and sidewalks. Groups adversely impacted by these conditions are often historically excluded from formal decision-making processes and require special considerations to ensure equitable investments, robust community engagement, and strategies that amplify community strengths.
When making decisions about projects that seek to improve existing conditions, it is necessary to prioritize people over place.
Planning approaches must consider investments that support all community members, businesses, and local partners. Without this consideration, improvements to a connected network of everyday destinations run the risks of benefiting only those who can afford greater financial costs that may come with increased desirability or creating spaces that do not reflect the current community's character. It is crucial to engage community members in decision-making processes from beginning to end, with sufficient opportunities for participants to shape outcomes. Public health and built environment professionals can contribute to solutions that align with local needs by creating and supporting projects that are informed by local values and priorities.
Cross-Sector Collaboration: Public Health and Built Environment Professionals
Various professionals and local leaders may be interested in enhancing everyday destinations and improving connectivity, local vibrance, community resilience, health, and overall quality of life. Public health professionals are well positioned to support local actions that encourage healthy living, but they may not have the connections, knowledge, or familiarity with planning activities to engage with projects that create new destinations, enhance existing ones, or help improve access to a mix of inclusive destinations.
Public health professionals' familiarity with local health data and programs, connection with community members, partnerships with community-based organizations, willingness to work across sectors, understanding of the multiple environmental variables that influence health, and knowledge of the community contexts that influence health behaviors can provide important contextualizing information to support projects that improve the health and well-being of community members.
Planners and other built environment professionals, including but not limited to professionals who work in public works, transportation, housing, and parks and recreation, are familiar with mechanisms to implement infrastructure change and understand the policies and processes that can support or prohibit these changes. Through strategic interventions, these professionals can work with public health professionals to support community members, local partners, and elected and appointed officials, to envision, plan for, and implement projects and programs that support a mix of accessible everyday destinations.
These professionals can collaborate with public health professionals to ensure that a mix of accessible everyday destinations is connected through activity-friendly routes in many ways. For instance, built environment professionals can:
- Address infrastructure needs that support physical activity (e.g., public works departments ensuring a continuous network of sidewalks connecting destinations);
- Use greenspace programming to encourage community members to explore natural areas (e.g., parks and recreation departments hosting hikes and waterway tours);
- Identify building design components that reflect local character and entice community members to explore local streets and destinations by walking or rolling (e.g., architects using historic preservation principles to protect and enhance historic areas); and
- Implement zoning changes to support new destinations accessible through active transportation (e.g., planners drafting requirements to prioritize pedestrians and bikers within a specific district).
Depending on the size and resources available to a community, many small and rural communities may not have local staff (e.g., planners, transportation staff, parks and recreation professionals, etc.) responsible for planning and implementing strategies. In some cases, the professionals responsible for making these decisions are shared across communities, or the community may have to hire experts.
Public health officials can find more information about who is involved in built environment processes by talking with municipal staff and local leaders, reviewing municipal websites for information on building permits and developments, participating in public meetings, reviewing public meeting minutes, and seeking recommendations at county or regional levels.
In small and rural communities, many partners work together to advance planning activities, including planners, other professionals, advisors, advocates, decision-makers, and community members. Together, they play key roles in creating activity-friendly, accessible, and connected communities with a mix of everyday destinations, particularly when planning efforts focus on equitable solutions.
Public engagement is a critical component as community members and local partners are aware of the challenges and opportunities unique to their setting. Business owners, faith-based leaders, and school officials are just a few of the many participants who can share local knowledge to ensure that new developments or projects reflect the diverse perspectives and values of the community. Community members are key to ensuring that changes supporting a higher quality of life are desired by those who live there.
Public health professionals play an important role by collaborating with built environment professionals, decision-makers, and community members in planning-related activities and decisions that support the creation of a connected, safe, and accessible network of everyday destinations.
About the Everyday Destination Series
This blog series identifies actions that can be implemented collaboratively to create a network of new destinations or enhance existing destinations, in small and rural communities. The series focuses on actions that can be implemented by a variety of local-level actors with the authority to recommend changes to the policies and processes influencing the built environment, including municipal, county, and regional staff; economic development entities; housing authorities; public works teams; public health professionals; and planners. It seeks to help these actors working in small and rural communities create or reimagine everyday destinations.
The blog series aims to familiarize public health professionals, including those working in communities that are funded through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity's High Obesity Program, Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health, and State Physical Activity and Nutrition programs, about planning processes and interventions used to create or enhance a network of everyday destinations accessible by walking, rolling, or transit. Public health professionals familiar with these interventions are better equipped to contribute to planning processes and interventions, which can lead to positive impacts for community members.
This blog series presents 15 planning approaches that can be used to create or enhance everyday destinations. Each blog post provides a brief explanation of the approach, an overview of how the approach aligns with priorities in small and rural communities, and an overview of factors to consider from an equity perspective. Additionally, each blog post includes a case example illustrating how a small or rural municipality implemented the approach, often with an emphasis on equitable engagement, implementation strategies, and outcomes.
Downtown Charlottesville: Small and rural communities can support vibrant streets and active living through various planning approaches. Source: Payton Chung/flikr.com (CC BY 2.0) Downtown mall
To emphasize opportunities for action, each blog post presents activities that professionals with the authority to make changes to policies and processes influencing the built environment can use to create new destinations or reimagine existing destinations. The actions listed may not be suitable for all communities. It is important to consider local context, history, and values when selecting actions to implement.
Additionally, communities may want to consider timeframes for implementation, which will vary depending on the availability of resources, community priorities, and prior activities focused on creating environments that support physical activity. Within each planning approach, some strategies may be easier to implement than others. Communities can seek a balance of approaches that are suitable to achieve local goals.
The blog posts also provide partnership recommendations to encourage cross-sector collaboration. It highlights collaborators, including civic groups, students, artists and makers, and local institutions, and the roles they play in creating a network of everyday destinations that are accessible, inclusive, and serve the needs of all, particularly groups that have historically lacked formal representation.
More details on implementing planning approaches can be accessed by clicking links before the Additional Resources section of each blog post, by clicking on the examples provided in the Strategic Points of Intervention section, and by reviewing references. This blog series is intended to serve as a conversation starter between different sectors, partners, and community members. For more information on options to increase physical activity through the built environment, contact potential partners in your community to discuss opportunities for collaboration and change.
Learn more about collaboration between planners and public health professionals by reading the resource, Fostering Healthy Communities through Planning and Public Health Collaboration, linked below.
Fostering Healthy Communities Through Planning and Public Health Collaboration
This fact sheet illustrates how collaboration between public health and planning can encourage healthy, equitable, and resilient communities. It provides overlapping priorities, recommendations for building collaborative relationships, and overviews of planning and public health responsibilities, operations, and processes.
How Can Public Health Professionals Use this Series?
Public health professionals are well positioned to support local actions that encourage healthy living, but they may not have the connections, knowledge, or familiarity with planning activities to engage with projects that create new destinations, enhance existing ones, or help improve access to a mix of destinations. This series is designed to increase public health professionals' understanding of the planning processes and interventions that could be used to create or enhance a network of everyday destinations accessible by walking, rolling, or transit.
In most cases, public health professionals will not have the authority to change policies and processes that influence the design of the built environment. However, public health can collaborate with planners and other built environment professionals, including but not limited to professionals who work in public works, transportation, housing, and parks and recreation, who have the authority and are familiar with mechanisms to implement infrastructure change and who have a greater understanding of the policies and processes that can support or prohibit infrastructure changes.
Public health and other built environment professionals can work together to support community members, local partners, and elected and appointed officials, to envision, plan for, and implement projects and programs that support a mix of accessible everyday destinations for all people.
How Can Planners and Built Environment Professionals Use this Series?
Planners and built environment professionals can use this series to learn about options to collaboratively support a mix of everyday destinations that encourage physical activity in small and rural communities. While many of these planning approaches may be familiar to planners, this blog series highlights critical connections between the built environment and public health that can inform decisions and generate community benefits.
The blog series also illustrates opportunities to partner with public health professionals, local leaders, and community members, all of whom can play a role in advancing strategies to encourage physical activity through planning processes, regulations, programs, and community investments. Planners can use this resource to identify examples of small and rural communities that have implemented creative solutions and strategic planning to increase community vibrancy and support physical activity. Planners can serve as facilitators for partners and community residents, as technical advisors providing information to community groups, as implementers of projects that enhance everyday destinations, and as advocates for decisions that support community health and physical activity.
Active People, Healthy Nation
Active People, Healthy NationSM is a national initiative led by CDC to help 27 million Americans become more physically active by 2027. Increased physical activity can improve health, and quality of life, and reduce healthcare costs.
Top Image: MGWIKI/wikipedia.org (CC BY-SA 3.0)
About the Authors
Jo Peña is a research associate with APA.
Sagar Shah is a planning and community health manager with APA.