Plan4Health Success Story: Piloting a Health Assessment Lens in Colorado

Plan4Health connects communities across the country, funding work at the intersection of planning and public health. Anchored by American Planning Association (APA) chapters and American Public Health Association (APHA) affiliates, Plan4Health supports creative partnerships to build sustainable, cross-sector coalitions.

The Colorado Chapter of the American Planning Association and its partner, the Colorado Center for Sustainable Urbanism (CCSU) in the College of Architecture and Planning at the University of Colorado Denver, leveraged Plan4Health funds to build local capacity for integrating planning and public health.

One product developed through the project is a new health assessment tool. The tool supports local planners and decision makers to assess a host of health factors early in the design and planning process, including: human well-being, environmental health, education and economic aspects of health, healthy homes, healthy communities, and healthy connections.

The project also provided specific recommendations to three communities in Colorado: Brush, Durango, and Westminster.

Construction in Westminster, Colorado, during the 2017 Partnering4Health mobile tour. Photo by Rosa Riley, American Public Health Association.

Each section of the tool begins with a brief introduction and contains a series of questions. Users may opt to apply a simple scoring system applying "0" or "1" for each question. Each category area also includes the total number of "points" possible to score (i.e. /6). This system provides the user with a way to easily identify gaps and positive aspects of health in the existing plans and project documents. In addition, users may want to track their sources of information, and the tool provides space to list different sources.

Below is an example of the first section, Equity and Justice:

I. Equity and Justice /6

Achieving social equity and environmental justice are critical to creating healthy places for all people. It is critical to understand an area's past and current conditions to accurately address equity and justice.

  • Social equity refers to fairness and justice for all people, including disadvantaged populations, ensuring a safe and healthy environment, along with access to goods and services.
  • Environmental justice refers to responding to damage that has been done in disadvantaged communities in the past; and ensuring tangible benefits occur in these communities from new projects.

Architects, designers, and planners should know about past environmental, social, and economic damage in the area in which they are working. Any new project, plans, or programs should provide opportunities to repair past damage in the area and introduce new benefits into these communities.

  1. Is there damage (social, environmental, or other) in the area as a result of past actions or projects?


  1. Are there communities in the area that are most vulnerable to negative health impacts?


  1. Are there opportunities to repair past damage?


  1. Are there opportunities introduce new benefits to the area?


  1. Are there initiatives that aim to mitigate any negative impacts of past and future decisions?


  1. Are there local social justice advocate groups in the area?


"This project has enabled opportunities for CCSU and APA Colorado to be more deliberate about our collaboration with American Public Health Association, state and local agencies, and the not-for-profit public health community," says Michelle Stephens, AICP, president of the APA's Colorado Chapter and member of the Plan4Health Colorado Steering Committee. "Our intent is to expand skills and make more resources regarding the intersection of public health and planning available to communities across Colorado."

There are countless links between health and planning.

"How we live, how we get around, and how we play are at the heart of planning and all contribute to our health and well-being," said Rocky Piro, FAICP, executive director of the Colorado Center for Sustainable Urbanism. "Being able to work with jurisdictions to incorporate health into local planning and decision making is a key aspect of making places more vibrant and improving quality of life in the 21st century."

APA's Colorado Chapter is a nonprofit organization of professionals and citizen planners providing vision and leadership for the future development of Colorado communities. Members of the chapter work both in the public and private sector; for federal, state, and local government; for firms both large and small; in long-range planning and development review; in master planning, as well as site planning; in transportation planning, land use planning, environmental planning, design, and in many other capacities.

The Colorado Center for Sustainable Urbanism at the University of Colorado Denver is a collaborative home for urban planners, architects, engineers, economists, health professionals, public policy experts, and others to work together in using best available information and best practices to advance sustainable solutions for both the natural environment and the built environment. The Center partners with state, regional, and local agencies, as well as with private sector firms; local foundations; professional associations; and community groups.

The College of Architecture and Planning at the University of Colorado Denver is the only college in Colorado offering comprehensive programs in the design and planning of the built environment, from undergraduate through accredited professional master's degrees to the doctorate.

Information about the work through Planners4Health initiative can be found at

Top image: Walk audit in a northern neighborhood in Denver during the 2017 Partnering4Health mobile tour. Photo by Aliza Norcross, American Planning Association.

January 10, 2018

By Rocky Piro, FAICP