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Community planning is a tool that helps shape a community. It can guide land use, transportation priorities, parks and recreation development, and design standards at the neighborhood, town, city, or regional level. Community plans can include long-range comprehensive plans, housing plans, neighborhood revitalization plans, and food systems plans in addition to other local and regional planning efforts.
Good community planning maximizes the health of individuals and groups that live, work, and play in the community. By incorporating public health into the planning process, communities can plan to create positive and equitable health outcomes. Some examples include:
- Clearing a blighted area to build a park in a neighborhood that has few recreational opportunities
- Connecting a fragmented sidewalk system allowing people to safely walk to more places in the community
- Expanding a transit system to a neighborhood with a large low-income population, allowing residents to access healthy food outlets and areas with more employment or educational opportunities
While professional planners can facilitate community planning efforts and lend technical skills, a plan should ultimately reflect the vision and priorities of the community, not the planners. Laws and policies can create standards for community plans to ensure that health is promoted equitably across race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and ability level. Plans of all types—from transportation to food systems to housing—can recommend strategies to promote community health and provide actionable items on how to achieve them.
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Local planning efforts can have a significant impact on the ability of residents facing hunger and food insecurity to access affordable, healthy food. Local planning efforts can also affect food access by addressing connections between land use, natural resources, transportation, housing, solid waste, parks and open space, economic development, and other areas of physical development in a community.
Too often, local governments overlook a leading cause of poor health when building their comprehensive plans. Tobacco is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the United States, including nearly 42,000 deaths resulting from secondhand smoke exposure. Any local government serious about building a healthy place to live should integrate tobacco control into its comprehensive planning.