Local governments can greatly impact community health using tools that are already largely the responsibility of the planning department. Find out more about planning, zoning and environmental review tools here.
The general plan forms the foundation of local land-use planning. When an agency adopts a general plan, it creates a vision for the foreseeable planning horizon — usually 10 to 20 years — and translates that vision into objectives, goals, policies and implementation programs for the community’s physical development.
Cities and counties can also adopt community plans for specific neighborhoods or districts where issues of health, physical activity or nutrition are particularly important. Community plans are part of the general plan and allow a city or county to concentrate on the most salient issues, such as health, and develop planning strategies and actions best suited for specific communities. This can avoid the time and expense involved in revising or updating the general plan as a whole.
While land-use planning is primarily a local responsibility, some issues related to land use and development transcend local boundaries. For example, California has established agencies to develop regional plans and programs to address transportation and air quality, two issues integrally related to public health. These agencies are governed by local officials selected by their peers to serve on agency boards.
Zoning implements the general plan; it separates a community into districts, or “zones,” that regulate land uses and the intensity of development. A zoning designation is assigned to every legally defined parcel within a zone in the community. A zoning map shows officials and the public the location of the various zones, and the zoning code specifies which uses are permitted in those zones and the standards that apply to each use.
The environmental review process provides another way for local officials to address health issues when they are considering land-use plans and development proposals. Environmental review is intended to ensure that decision-makers understand and account for a project’s environmental consequences, including its effects on health.
A strong link exists between how a community is designed and the transportation choices people make.29 For example, most Americans generally consider a 10-minute or quarter-mile walk a reasonable distance to reach a transit stop, public park, neighborhood shop or other nearby destination.30
Older neighborhoods tend to have shorter blocks and streets laid out in a grid that are convenient for pedestrians and encourage walking. New developments can be designed with similar features.
Climate change — sometimes referred to as global warming — has emerged in recent years as an important focus of local planning.Cities and counties are choosing to address the causes and consequences of climate change for a variety of reasons, including public health.Some of the potential health effects of climate change in California include increased heat-related deaths (especially in the rapidly growing inland valley and desert regions); higher risks of death and injury from more severe flooding, fires and storms; increased air pollution; and changes in the distribution or characteristics
The Town of Windsor adopted special area plans and compact zoning designations for key parts of the town. Compact development can increase pedestrian activity contributing to increased physical activity rates, reduced neighborhood crime incidents and a more vibrant active neighborhood. Learn more.