The American Planning Association is Integrating Health and Planning
Since 1978, the American Planning Association (APA) has worked to advance the art and science of planning at the local, regional, state and national levels.
APA provides leadership in the development of communities by advocating excellence in planning, promoting education and citizen empowerment, and providing the tools and support necessary to meet the challenges of growth and change.
Within APA is the American Institute of Certified Planners, the entity responsible for the national certification of professional planners.
Today, APA has approximately 40,000 national members, of which more than 15,000 are certified planners.
Among APA’s many programs dedicated to advancing planning practices is Plan4Health, which aims to bring stakeholders from the planning and public health disciplines together to create vibrant, healthy communities.
Plan4Health is a collaborative project of APA and the American Public Health Association (APHA) in which they partner APA Chapter members with APHA Affiliates to form coalitions to create local strategies for improving public health.
Projects can focus on a neighborhood, city, county or region, and the strategies take many forms. The coalitions look at health disparities in their communities and develop policies or conduct environmental interventions to support health.
Grantees are awarded through a competitive process and so far, there have been two rounds of grantee selection with a total of 35 grantees in 27 states. The first round of funding focused on communities that were implementation-ready, and the second round included support for capacity-building.
“Implementation-ready communities have community assessment information on hand already, and have a strategy selected and a team in place, making them able to jump into their chosen project as soon as funding begins,” said Anna Ricklin, who oversees Plan4Health as manager of APA’s Planning and Community Health Center. “Capacity-building grantees include a community assessment as a component of their strategies.”
The two main focus areas of Plan4Health strategies are active living and healthy eating. Some grantees work on both fronts, others on just one. A number of stories of innovation have already emerged from Plan4Health communities.
St. Louis, Missouri
In St. Louis, the Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) Partnership aims to reduce obesity in the city by five percent by 2018. The Partnership is working to provide safe access to physical activity for pedestrians throughout the City of St. Louis. The partnership is addressing walkability by engaging the community in pop-up traffic calming demonstrations and presenting ways to build better, safer streets for pedestrians and cyclists.
HEAL conducted pop-up traffic calming demonstrations in four key neighborhoods under the Plan4Health initiative. Demonstrations showed that cars drove slower with temporary traffic calming infrastructure in place. HEAL surveyed local policy-makers following the demonstrations, with hopes of encouraging policy for permanent traffic calming infrastructure to promote safer streets for pedestrians.
While the traffic calming demonstrations are temporary, the Partnership is developing a toolkit and lending library on how to implement demonstrations so they can be replicated in other neighborhoods.
Providence, Rhode Island
The Mount Hope Coalition to Increase Food Security is working in the Mount Hope neighborhood of Providence to educate youth and adults on the health and economic benefits of producing locally-grown food. As a capacity-building grantee, one of their first tasks is to recruit at least 10 community residents to participate in hands-on training about using alternative methods for securing fresh, healthy food. This training model develops the capacity of that community to grow community gardens, beginning with the growing season this year.
“The community identified that they wanted to work on nutrition; they identified that they wanted to work on locally-grown foods, but they are still building their coalition, so it’s emerging work,” Ricklin said. “They did have a first garden built last year, but they want to diversify their coalition and they want to reach out and build more gardens.”
The Mount Hope coalition is focusing on vulnerable populations in the community, especially multi-generational households. The coalition is engaging residents representing multiple generations to assist in removing barriers to healthy food through participation in community gardens.
By engaging residents of all ages to assist in community gardens, Mount Hope Coalition hopes that residents will feel a sense of community ownership while reducing food insecurity.
Dane County, Wisconsin
In Dane County, the Capital Region Healthy Communities (CRHC) Initiative applied for Plan4Health to combat high rates of inactivity, obesity, diabetes and racial disparity in health outcomes.
CRHC’s strategy was to increase access to physical activity and nutritious food by developing an Active Living Index, a data portal that brings together health data with built environment data.
“By blending those two types of data, planners, transportation departments and health officials can better target places with inequities and use the portal to support policies and system changes,” Ricklin said.
The Active Living Index will also provide decision-makers with information on the economic impact of changes to the built environment. The Index highlights how to capture the return on investment and ensure that the most effective improvements are prioritized—and that the power of population-level impact is understood.
The goal is to make streets walkable, so every resident has the opportunity to walk to the grocery store or bike to school. The coalition is considering rural, urban and suburban sites in order to make interventions replicable in communities across the state.
Plan4Health Outcomes and the Future
Although every Plan4Health coalition is different in scope and strategy, they all have one thing in common: bringing together members of the the planning and public health communities.
“The broad goal of Plan4Health is to fully integrate planning and public health on the local level,” Ricklin said. “Full integration is not going to happen in the couple years of this grant, but if we can incentivize and support that integration through short term projects, that’s a start, and it can carry forth into other areas.”
Ricklin sees clear evidence of relationship-building and indications that those relationships will be sustained long after Plan4Health is over.
APA has the benefit of being a national organization with a far reach through their 47 local chapters across the country, who hear about Plan4Health consistently through direct messaging from APA National, as well as from within their local chapters.
“More than half of the states in the U.S. and more than half of the APA chapters have been awarded in Plan4Health,” Ricklin said. “They’ve been working in a really hands-on way on these Plan4Health projects in local communities, and then bringing the information and lessons learned to colleagues in their state.”
The golden opportunity in Plan4Health is to leverage local networks through APA Chapters and APHA Affiliates to bring messages and experiences to local colleagues and put these context-specific strategies into practice.
“It’s one thing to hear from a colleague across the country about what they’re doing, but it’s so much more meaningful to hear it from another colleague in your state,” Ricklin said.
In the future, Ricklin would like to see the coalitions, and the relationship between planning and public health, grow stronger. She would also like to see the relationship institutionalized in local governments.
“We shouldn’t have to scramble for extra resources to be able to do this kind of work, it should just be a part of life,” Ricklin said.