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Healthy Communities Takes Center Stage at APA National

One of the prevailing themes at last week’s APA National Conference in Atlanta was the growth in healthy communities initiatives across the country and planning industry.

On the heels of APA’s January announcement with the CDC to create a Healthy Community Design Toolkit, the organization held its first-ever Planning Healthy Communities Symposium, four days of programming specifically devoted to the topic.

It began with Sunday’s opening keynote from acting U.S. Surgeon General Rear Admiral Boris Lushniak, who saluted planners for their role in advancing health for individuals, families, and communities, but said that more work needs to be done to build environments that affect community health and promote active lifestyle benefits for people of all ages.

Illustration of a healthy green cityOn Monday morning, executive director of the American Public Health Association, Dr. Georges Benjamin discussed the top drivers affecting the health of urban communities: transportation, including where major roads are built; food “deserts,” whereby a lack of grocery stores impacts people’s nutrition and the availability of fresh food; places to play to promote physical activity; lack of connectivity between workplace, home, and transportation due to urban sprawl; and trash disposal on or near low-income communities.

Dr. Benjamin’s presentation could be summed up in one phrase: “where a person lives matters.”

Also on Monday, a very interesting presentation on Innovative Community Engagement Tools featured a mobile outreach “talk show” vehicle from Pittsburgh City Planning that looked like a glass-enclosed living room on the back of a small truck. Called “TALKPGH,” the idea is that planners can more effectively reach their target audiences by driving an experience to them.

Talk PGH Mobile Van. Thanks to Andrew Dash, Andrew Dash, Pittsburgh Department of City Planning, for sharing the photo.
TALKPGH Mobile Van. Thanks to Andrew Dash, Pittsburgh
Department of City Planning, for sharing the photo.

This vehicle was used to solicit public response from residents via mobile video interviews in preparation for the city’s first comprehensive plan, PLANPGH. The mobile display was an excellent example of how planners can consider new, leading-edge methods to capture intelligence through direct community feedback.

Included in Tuesday’s program was a focus on the role of sustainability in planning healthy communities. The Partnership for Sustainable Communities, a collaboration between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, U.S. Department of Transportation, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, provided a “state of the union” on its affordable housing, transportation, and environment initiatives, citing a detailed case study to develop a 25-year regional plan for economic growth for a five‑county mountainous area in western North Carolina.

Throughout the sessions, real-world examples of healthy-community planning were cited from the host city Atlanta to Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Seattle, and more. For more information on the news coming out of the conference.

Dwayne Mears of PlaceworksDwayne Mears has 30 years of public and private planning experience and an extensive background in environmental planning and processing. As PlaceWorks’ Practice Leader of Environmental Services, Dwayne oversees the Environmental Planning and Environmental Sciences and Engineering groups, coordinates multidisciplinary project teams, and has expert knowledge in CEQA/NEPA compliance. Based in California, PlaceWorks is one of the leading planning, design and environmental firms in the U.S.