Planning and Designing the Physically Active Community

This project has been made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It's puropse is to encourage changes to the built environment that will promote physical activity as a means of improving the health of Americans.


Planning Active CommunitiesIn the last decade, the paradigm of smart growth has prompted many communities to improve the physical design of downtowns and neighborhoods. The precepts of smart growth include building more compact, walkable communities; allowing more mixing of land uses; providing transportation options other than automobiles, including public transit, and bicycle, and pedestrian facilities; and balancing jobs and housing to reduce commute times, improve air quality, and reduce reliance on cars. When communities make and implement plans to grow smarter, the result can be the creation of places that allow for more walking and physical activity than is typical in many post-war suburban and urban environments. That said, while there been more opportunities for physical activity created as a byproduct of smart growth principles, communities have not developed any systematic way to incorporate those opportunities in the normal course of planning. Many communities have yet to take steps to improve their physical design in any context, much less one that addresses physical activity.

Planning Active Communities

The Project

APA and its members are uniquely situated at the center of the diverse array of interests that must be brought together to address the issue effectively. These interests include smart growth generally, and specifically urban design, neighborhood planning, housing, safe and efficient transportation, parks and conservation, economic development, town center development and revitalization, and environmental protection. Further, in the last several decades, many states, including New Jersey, Maryland, and Oregon, have taken an active role in promoting smart growth in communities and neighborhoods. The approach APA will bring to these program activities will be to identify and focus on the strategic points of intervention — where the most critical community planning decisions are being made that affect future physical activity.

Survey Results Summary

The project resulted in numerous products and educational opportunities for APA members and others interested in improving public health through community design. The centerpiece of the effort in 2007 will be a PAS Report containing best practices principles and case studies illustrating how leading edge communities are addressing physical activity concerns in comprehensive plans, urban design initiatives, capital improvement programs, and development review processes. In Spring 2004, APA surveyed 10,000 planners to uncover communitywide initiatives already underway as well as ideas on specific planning techniques that can help people become more physically active. Other project activities have included conference sessions at upcoming APA National Planning Conferences, an audio conference for planning commissioners, and a Physically Active Community Institute. The institute brought together planners, designers, and community leaders with experts in public health and recreation to devise planning solutions to enabling and enhancing people to become more physically active.

Physically Active Community Survey Results Summary

Resource List

The Planning and Designing the Physically Active Community Resource List contains book, article, and government document citations. The list is part of a continuous process and may be considered a literature review as well as a resource list for the project.

Texts were chosen for the resource list based on several criteria, including relevance to the topics of planning and the promotion of physical activity, timeliness, the ability to convey concepts accurately and concisely.

The resource list is arranged under the following topics, Popular Literature, material that is of interest but is not specifically about planning and physical activity, including articles that appeared in the popular press; Planning Literature, information written by/for planners; Health Literature, information written by/for medical and public health practitioners; Plans and Guidelines, outstanding plans and technical assistance documents from states and communities; and Law and Legislation, ordinances and other legal documents of interest.

Planning and Designing the Physically Active Community Resource List (pdf)