Ten Big Ideas: Planning to Improve Community Health

Big Ideas Initiative

APA’s Game Changing Initiative intends to help planners bring about far-reaching and fundamental change around our state’s most critical challenges. This Initiative is organized around Ten Big Ideas, which include addressing climate change, rebuilding infrastructure, protecting ecosystems, growing economies, and supporting sustainable agriculture.

Each month, The Washington Planner will focus on one of the Ten Big Ideas, providing Washington APA members with more information on the work and opportunity to get involved. Our fifth installment focuses on planning to improve community health.

Planning to Improve Community Health

By Julie Bassuk and Laura Benjamin

Chronic diseases are the most significant health epidemic of our time, and societal costs are on the rise. But the news isn’t all bad. By now you’ve probably seen the headlines linking environment to longevity – your zip code can predict your health! This link puts planners on the front lines of the fight against chronic disease, if we expand the focus of our work and partnerships to include community health.

Some communities are already planning to improve health – examples in Pierce, Skagit, Yakima, Kittitas, Spokane, King, and Clark counties spring to mind.  The Washington State Department of Health is providing resources, technical assistance, and training. At the federal level, a variety of agencies and foundations are providing resources to build capacity and develop and strengthen planning and health department partnerships.  However, many communities are not yet incorporating health into planning for a number of reasons, including a lack of resources and leadership, uncertainty around the process, and skepticism regarding local benefits.

The Health and Planning Working Group believes planners could benefit from resources to start a conversation with decision-makers, build support, and jump start a planning effort.  To this end, the Working Group is developing the following:

  1. A policy framework to be considered for adoption by Washington APA. This intends to help planners 1) justify health planning work as a best planning practice; 2) advocate for resources to infuse health into planning; 3) provide starter policies to be considered for inclusion at the county or city level; and 4) support  legislative action and funding.   We welcome your review and comment on the draft policy framework.

  2. A user-friendly resource guide to make it easier for planners to incorporate health considerations.  It will link to useful tools, include key messages, and provide great examples around the following questions:
    1. Why should my community incorporate health into planning?
    2. How should I begin incorporating health into planning?
    3. How can I find data needed for baseline assessments?
    4. What data should I gather and how can I track progress? 
    5. How/why should I encourage physical activity in my community?
    6. How can I improve access to healthy food?

Please review and comment on a draft of this resource guide.

To help the Health Group complete these products and ensure that the final products reflect Washington planners’ needs, please take 30 seconds to fill out a short survey.  Thanks for your thoughts.

For more information on how you can lend your skills to plan to improve community health, please contact:

Julie Bassuk, AICP
MAKERS architecture and urban design, LLP
[email protected]

Return to December issue of The Washington Planner