Built Environment

Is your neighborhood walkable?  Are there sidewalks, bike paths, and pedestrian-friendly environments to support physical activity?

Do the amenities in your community—banks, grocery stores, retail shops—feel connected and in close proximity to one another? Are these amenities accessible by public transit?

The built environment consists of human-made elements where we live, work, and play, such as buildings, parks, recreational facilities, and transportation systems. People thrive, families flourish, and neighborhoods prosper when the built environment offers clean, safe, and healthy options.

PolicyLink promotes "Health in All Policies"—evaluating the health impact of any policy across an issue area—as an effective strategy to embed health equity considerations into non-health systems, such as linking health to housing, transportation, and educational systems.

The Center for Health Equity and Place works closely with the PolicyLink Center for Infrastructure Equity to create healthy, equitable communities by improving the built environment through the following strategies.

Policy Advocacy

Access to Opportunity through Transportation

All neighborhoods should have adequate transportation infrastructure, allowing residents to access basic needs and opportunities that improve health outcomes. The Center promotes planning policies and practices and works to increase public investment in transportation infrastructure, making it easier to walk to schools, buy groceries, and get to health care and jobs.

For example, in 2013, The Center prioritized the creation of safe, healthy communities in California by working with a coalition to pass the Active Transportation Program, which will invest in walking and bicycling infrastructure and the Safe Routes to Schools program. The Program commits to spending at least 25 percent of the program funds on projects that benefit disadvantaged communities.

For more information, see equitycaucus.org

Sustainable Community Strategies

The Center advocates for stronger state guidance and legal frameworks to improve health outcomes through planning practices, including helping to shape general plan guidelines for regions to promote ways in which health equity can be more prominent in general planning in California, and working to ensure that Strategic Growth Council awards are targeted to low-income communities, including disadvantaged unincorporated communities and urban neighborhoods. 

The Center also works with California state agencies, including the California Office of Planning and Research and Strategic Growth Council, to recommend equitable guidance principles for local and municipal planning organizations, leverage agencies' grantmaking power to incentivize equitable development projects, and ensure that Sustainable Community Strategies—mandated by California SB 375 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by aligning transportation, land use, and housing interests—provide investment in low-income communities and communities of color and expand access to transportation, education, and economic opportunities.

For more information, see the Sustainable Communities section within the Center for Infrastructure Equity section. 

Technical Assistance

Community Transformation Grant Program

PolicyLink serves as technical consultant to the Community Transformation Grant program (CTG), which is funded by the Affordable Care Act’s Prevention and Public Health Fund and administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

CTG awardees design and implement community-level programs that prevent chronic diseases and reduce health disparities. The Center for Health Equity and Place provides one-on-one and group trainings, presents at national meetings, and consults with CDC. The strategies focus on obesity prevention and include efforts such as those noted below: 

  • Promoting improvements in the built environment, such as sidewalks and street lighting, that increase access to physical activity and enhance safety
  • Increasing access to healthy foods by supporting local farmers and developing neighborhood grocery stores


Building Healthy Communities

PolicyLink partners with community organizations in California's San Joaquin Valley in efforts to promote healthy land use and development that does not displace low-income residents or remove affordable housing. For example, the Center works with Fresno County's Community Equity Coalition to ensure that policies and practices that link transportation, environmental outcomes, and health under SB 375 result in fair investment in the county's rural communities, low-income communities, and communities of color.

The Center also provides technical assistance to The California Endowment’s Building Healthy Communities sites in Richmond, Fresno, and Oakland to help create safe, healthy, and environmentally and economically sustainable communities. In Oakland, best practices related to a proposed Bus Rapid Transit line along International Boulevard are being evaluated and proposed. This work includes research into current investments by local community development corporations, industries, and affordable housing near the corridor, and research into how similar projects across the country have ensured that businesses owned by women and people of color are protected throughout development.

For more information, see the California Policy Advocacy section.

Network and Coalition Building

California Equity Leaders Network
The California Equity Leaders Network is a statewide collaborative dedicated to improving the lives of all Californians and promoting a future of shared prosperity. Network members have a shared interest in building a healthy and prosperous California by improving social, economic, public health, and environmental outcomes for low-income people and communities of color.
Community Equity Initiative
The Community Equity Initiative (CEI) is a collaboration, along with California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc., Leadership Council for Justice and Accountability, and California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, that was created to address the infrastructure and community service challenges faced by the low-income unincorporated communities in California’s eight-county San Joaquin Valley region and in the Coachella Valley.
The CEI works to promote better health outcomes for rural, unincorporated, low-income communities by advocating for infrastructure to create basic features like safe, affordable drinking water, sewer systems, safe housing, public transportation, parks, sidewalks, and streetlights.

Research and Reports

Health impact assessments (HIAs) analyze a proposed policy, plan, project, or program to forecast the future health implications of the proposal and assess whether the impacts are distributed equitably across populations and communities. HIAs can focus research and attention on issues of interest for disadvantaged populations, support community participation in decision-making processes, and propose recommendations to maximize health and equity. 
Promoting Equity through the Practice of Health Impact Assessment describes the imperative to ensure equity in HIAs, identifies principles for equity in HIAs, and recommends strategies for the implementation of each principle. The report also shares specific examples of HIAs that show the principle in practice, along with two case studies that effectively incorporate all the principles.
Healthy Corridor for All: A Community Health Impact Assessment of Transit-oriented Development Policy in Saint Paul, Minnesota shares the recommendations of an HIA conducted by community organizing partners ISAIAH, Take Action Minnesota, and PolicyLink on a light rail expansion along some of the most racially diverse and economically challenged communities in the Twin Cities.
Guidance and Best Practices for Stakeholder Participation in Health Impact Assessment provides specific strategies, challenges, and resources for effective participation of stakeholders in HIAs.