Planning for Healthy, Equitable Communities
photo by craig kerwien on Unsplash
Modern urban planning really took off in the United States as a city-led public health response to poor living conditions in industrial era cities. Since then, the term has expanded to include regions, towns, and rural areas and includes transportation, communication, environmental protection, and public space design. Today’s planning professionals recognize a changing world to include equity and community resiliency as core values.
The American Planning Association (APA) is an independent, not-for-profit professional organization that encourages and supports the leadership of urban planners in creating great communities for all. While acknowledging that the urban planning profession of the past has led to current injustices—such as exclusionary zoning and lack of equitable transportation infrastructure—the organization is now working to correct racial injustices, mitigate disparities, and improve the quality of life for people in all communities.
Urban planning and public health have had a renewal regarding common missions and perspectives. There is much crossover in the fields: both aim to improve human well-being, emphasize needs assessments, manage complex social systems focused at the population level, and rely on community-based participatory methods.
Community Commons was invited to present at the APA Missouri Chapter’s October 2020 virtual conference on the topic of planning for healthy, equitable communities. Presenters Sara Ivey, an urban planner and public health practitioner herself, and Erin Barbaro, both from of IP3—the stewards of Community Commons— shared ways The Commons can assist planners in their work. Watch a video of the presentation below, and explore the suggestions and resources presented here, which can be used within any community planning organization or government entity that is focused on equitable, healthy communities.
What are the Vital Conditions and Why Use Them for Planning?
The Seven Vital Conditions for Well-Being is a useful framework for looking at holistic well-being and the conditions that give rise to it.
The Vital Conditions bring together major determinants of health and help users consider the properties of places and institutions that all people need all the time to be healthy and well. If any vital condition is denied or otherwise unfulfilled, serious adversity can accumulate, leading to excess rates of illness, unemployment, housing distress, food insecurity, loneliness, and more.
The challenges of 2020 illustrated the importance of strong, equitable urban planning for resilient communities, and how unmet vital conditions can have devastating consequences. Innovative thinkers from across the country worked in tandem to create Thriving Together: A Springboard for Equitable Recovery and Resilience in Communities Across America. This resource highlights scores of actions that communities, organizations, businesses, governments and funders can take to help America heal through the trauma of 2020 and secure the vital conditions that all people and places need to thrive.
“Our best hope for escaping the adversity spiral and changing course is to organize local and nationwide action around a single, unifying, and measurable expectation: All people and places thriving—no exceptions.” —Thriving Together: A Springboard for Equitable Recovery and Resilience in Communities Across America
Community Commons Enhances Planning
Community Commons can support application of well-being concepts in all steps of community planning:
- Ideating + Implementing
- Scaling + Spreading
Here is a quick orientation to The Commons before we dig into the steps.
Step 1: Advance a Vision for Health and Well-Being
Comprehensive and community plans often start with a vision for a community’s development over a multi-decade frame. Implicit in such visions are a desire to improve well-being, prosperity and community conditions. An explicit focus on well-being—both individual and vital community conditions can galvanize cross-sector potential.
To create the conditions for community well-being, we must look back at ongoing, historic influences, and forward to the major forces that shape current and future priorities, and take an approach that enhances individual well-being—how we think, feel, and function, as well as how we evaluate our lives as a whole—and the vital conditions that we all need to reach our potential.
Measuring a community's well-being is an important step to inform creation of a new vision. The recently released Science of Thriving has an informed an easy-to-use, real time survey called the Well-Being Assessment that measures well-being and has the ability to catalyze change and assess progress on what matters most in communities, and get a better understanding of the degree to which a community is thriving, struggling or suffering, and in what ways.
Step 2: Engage the Whole Community
Whole community engagement is especially important when the goal is to find ways to improve well-being for all. It is crucial to include dialogue in your community change process, especially those with lived experiences. According to the Communities WIN Dialogue Guide, dialogue “strengthens our sense of belonging and connection by building relationships.” Dialogue allows groups of people with a diversity of perspectives, to listen, share, and discover—all in the name of community change.
Dialogue also demands that we enter every conversation with three intentions:
- Listen for what’s true for others
- Share what’s true for you
- Discover what we share in common
While these intentions may seem simple in concept, in practice they often push boundaries. Learn more.
Step 3: Inspirational Ideas and Implementing for Change
Engaging stakeholders and the public in dialogue taps into story, which can be a powerful vehicle through which communities can ideate and advocate for change. Looking outside a community can also lead to inspiration that brings new ideas of what is possible to the table. The most innovative, sustainable strategies are often shared and inspired by those working on the ground. Community Commons seeks to lift up inspiration from communities around the U.S. When we share stories, we can learn from each other and spread real change for the greater good.
Once new ideas are shared, policy change becomes a useful tool to improve population health by advancing initiatives that can affect the behaviors of entire populations more efficiently than one-off programs.
Importantly, policies to advance well-being are not limited to formal policies passed through local, state, or federal legislation. Often policy change is more feasible at the organizational level. Businesses, neighborhoods, and institutions have capacity to implement important policies that advance equitable well-being.
Step 4: Scaling and Spreading Success Across Sectors
Scaling happens when a proven idea is carried forward to other sectors of a community, and then potentially spreads beyond the original plan to unique or diverse situations. This is often seen in system transformation—changing or redesigning systems to shift the conditions that hold a problem in place. Shifting conditions for systems change requires stewards to think and act in new ways to create new legacies of dignity and inclusion.