Improving the health of Arizonans is critical to improving the quality of life as well as reducing health care costs. The most effective strategies are ones that incorporate the principles of population health… which includes health outcomes as well as the determinants that influence those outcomes including the public policy that influences the social and environmental determinants. A city’s General Plan can be a large public health lever to improve those outcomes.
Designing healthier communities requires a new way of thinking. For example, the way a city zones can affect how easy it is to get physical activity. The tough part is connecting all of the right people to sit in on the conversation together. The zoning people might not talk to the health people, who may not talk to the transportation folks. But where can community residents start? One place to start is with a recently developed Toolkit put together by ADHS and other members of the Healthy Community Design Collaborative.
This toolkit is really designed to help cities, towns and counties strategically think about how to enhance health through changing the built environment, like through adding sidewalks or bike lanes. It’s basically a guide for local residents who want to participate in their community planning process. The Toolkit provides a general overview of the process, explains the purpose of city General Plans, and gives guidance regarding who to talk to in local government- and presents ways to get involved. There’s also a checklist for what policy topics should be addressed in a plan and even some examples of policies for residents to consider for incorporation into their city’s General Plan. It also provides coaching for community residents to build relationships that facilitate implementing policy language.
Our team recently created the azhealthcommunities.org website, which is another tool that provides information on the influence of community design, accessibility and transportation on health. You can even find some recent examples of how communities in Arizona are working to create healthier environments and learn to create a Health Impact Assessment, which can be used to help city projects improve population health. These are just some examples of how we can work to promote healthy and safe community environments – one of our priority areas of our Strategic Map.