New project seeks to identify barriers to building healthy and equitable developments

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We already know that how you site, design and operate a residential or commercial development shapes how often people walk, bike, take transit, or drive, and whether that transportation experience is comfortable or harrowing. Developers’ choices help determine whether people have easy access to healthy foods, jobs, affordable housing, and community facilities like parks and schools.

Research, guidebooks, checklists, and toolkits on the subject of building healthy, equitable developments are plentiful. The International City/County Management Association and the Smart Growth Network have published books with hundreds of recommended policies for building smarter, like “encourage developers to reduce off-street parking” and “create active and secure open spaces.” The Urban Land Institute recently published a Building Healthy Places Toolkit with 21 recommendations like “design visible, enticing stairs to encourage everyday use” and “support onsite gardening and farming.”

With all of these tools available, what prevents developers from building healthier, more equitable developments?

A team of researchers is working with the Resilient Communities Project (RCP) to find out. With funding from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota’s Center for Prevention, over the next year the team will meet with development stakeholders to investigate barriers to building healthier, more equitable developments.

“I initiated this project with my colleague Eric Weiss,” said Sam Rockwell of the Center for Prevention.  “Eric and I were interested in the impact land use and development decisions have on health and equity. We wanted to find a way to influence these decisions in a positive way. We knew that barriers to healthy and equitable development patterns extended beyond a knowledge gap – a number of healthy development guides have been published in the last few years – but it was not clear what the barriers to healthy development were. Our goal for this project is to uncover some of the barriers to healthy and equitable development and provide insights into how the development community can overcome those barriers.”

Consultant, author, and University of Minnesota lecturer Peter Brown will bring his expertise in private sector development to the project. “I am interested in helping policy makers, designers, and planners understand how development works from the viewpoint of the people doing the work—I have a pragmatic, nuts and bolts, bottom-up perspective,” said Mr. Brown. “I am interested in knowing what developers can do in their buildings and onsite to increase healthy living, but also what kinds of relationships and arrangements they can make in the surrounding community to increase the health of their residents.”

RCP Director Mike Greco sees the Healthy and Equitable Development project as another way of working towards RCP’s mission. “One of the goals of the Resilient Communities Project is to advance local sustainability on the ground by helping communities move from ideas to implementation. The Healthy and Equitable Development project is a great example of that,” said Mr. Greco.

Maria Wardoku is a Master of Urban and Regional Planning student at the University of Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs

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