Planning Healthy Communities

There is a movement afoot to integrate land use and human services planning, called “Healthy Communities” planning. Let’s look at the concept and some practical applications.


Q. What is Healthy Communities Planning and how does it work? Does it differ from regular planning or is it just another Santa Fe buzzword?

A. Healthy Communities offers a framework to integrate planning among local government, community groups, environmental organizations, businesses, and human services, so that strategic planning can lead to strategic doing. This helps communities get a handle on controlling their own health and lives.


Q. Isn’t health planning concerned with medical clinics and the like?

A. Enhancing health goes beyond health care; in the broadest sense, it covers the educational, emotional, social, physical and spiritual well being of families. Projects active in New Mexico have as their goals:
  • support communities in determining their own needs;
  • provide increased resources to communities to meet their needs;
  • allow for greater community control over state-allocated resources; and
  • develop a single, coordinated funding mechanism for meeting community needs.


Q. So what can be achieved through this approach?

A. Healthy Communities strategies include:
  • build public policies that build health;
  • create supportive environments;
  • strengthen community action;
  • develop personal skills, such as participating in citizenship; and
  • reorient health services.


Q. What does a community have to do make this approach work?

A. The approach includes coordination of actions, commitment by local government, healthy public policy, and community involvement. It offers planners a good conceptual tool, meaningful public involvement, an organizational framework, and it can improve on existing planning efforts.


Q. Doesn’t the initiative run the risk of masking problems?

A. Not at all. Healthy community planning looks at causes, not symptoms. It works in an era of limited funds, devolution of responsibilities, and a greater need to better organize service delivery. It encourages people and institutions to share resources to jointly solve problems. And it provides a unifying theory for the people portion of planning. If health is the overriding goal, each department in the local government, not just planning, should act to make that happen, beyond usual departmental mandates.


Q. Who has used the Healthy Communities framework successfully?

A. Nine communities throughout New Mexico have joined thousands worldwide in implementing innovative programs. Taos sought zoning regulations to curb public health problems caused by unregulated development. Las Cruces opted for an electronic bulletin board as a local resource directory.


Q. What lessons can be applied from Healthier Communities initiatives?

A. Here are nine, as given by Healthier Communities consultant Tyler Norris:
  1. Definition of Health, or Quality of Life, or any other topic important to the community — How does the community own and define the topic at hand, based on how the community sees the problem, not the other way around.
  2. Shared Vision & Values — Values will differ among community members but some are shared. From those shared values comes the vision of the community.
  3. Systems Change — Examine existing relationships in a community. Policing, housing, youth activities, health care all have some things in common and can be helpful to the others.
  4.  Link Initiatives — Link community systems doing something about problems. Why have ten groups in a community trying to solve the same problem? Link initiatives to get more done.
  5. Neighbor/Regional Focus — Problems are addressed best at neighborhood or regional level.
  6. Building Capacity — Identify problems but don’t forget the assets. Any community has a number of strengths. Identify strengths to assist in how you can make improvements.
  7. Benchmark and Measure Outcomes — What gets measured, gets done. Measure the outcomes with what is desired to be accomplished.
  8. It takes time — There is no such thing as a small improvement. Commitment and work are required for accomplishment and achievement. It will take time to make progress.
  9. No one right way — One size doesn’t fit all. There is no prescription to reach the results desired, but lots of ways to reach the final destination. The community must find the right path.  When applied to both social and physical planning, Halston, Ontario came up with the following policies:
  • Increase affordable housing by 30%+;
  • Increase transit use by 20%*;
  • Adopt life cycle community planning, from child care to elderly facilities;
  • Build multiple use public facilities through flexible zoning;
  • Set design guidelines to reflect people’s wishes: narrow streets, eyes on streets for safety;
  • Plan human services and thereby reduce waste and inefficiency.