What does planning have to do with health? The way we design and build our communities affects our physical and mental health. When communities have plenty of walkable sidewalks and bike-friendly routes for kids to take to school, students are more active. When residents can walk where they need to go, car traffic decreases and that can improve air quality and respiratory health.

The Plan4Health project — anchored by APHA and the American Planning Association and funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — brings together public health and planning professionals with communities to improve access to healthy living. As part of this effort, APHA recently pledged support to the Joint Call to Action to Promote Healthy Communities by challenging its members to work with built environment professionals to plan, build and support healthy communities.

Health by Design leveraged Plan4Health funding and community partnerships, including the City of Indianapolis, the Marion County Public Health Department, the American Planning Association Indiana Chapter and the Indiana Public Health Association, among other local project partners, to create the Indianapolis/Marion County Pedestrian Plan, also called Indy WalkWays. This is the city and county’s first-ever pedestrian plan. It makes health a primary consideration in land use, development and design practice.

Plan4Health’s recently published case study, Indy WalkWays: More than a Pedestrian Plan, details this successful and comprehensive plan to increase walkability for Marion County’s more than 940,000 residents. While developing the Indianapolis/Marion County Pedestrian Plan, or Indy Walkways, the coalition partners focused on three goals: ongoing community engagement, a comprehensive communications campaign and rigorous data analysis. Their goal was to create a long-term vision for a more walkable and healthy Indianapolis.

Indy WalkWays report

Indy WalkWays report

Communications

The Plan4Health case study details how project leaders developed a communications strategy to spread the word about the plan’s intentions and activities. Communications encouraged Indianapolis residents to walk more, and to engage in the planning process. From initial branding conversations to the launch of a new website and open house event, planners made sure to involve the community.

Community Engagement

Through an open survey, project leaders gathered the community’s thoughts on which parts of the plan should take priority. The planning team engaged elected and local stakeholders through a series of interviews.  It collected over 1,700 online and paper responses from the public and held public open houses to collect feedback and refine the plan. 

Data

Project partners used data to prioritize investments and provide guidance for future projects. The coalition completed an initial State of Walkability report to establish benchmarks. Then it created an extensive series of maps to define the city in terms of population density, equity index, chronic disease rates and more. The coalition analyzed this data through three lenses — health, safety and equity — and ultimately created a map of the areas that most needed improvements.

The Three Ps

The final Pedestrian Plan defined its recommendations using the three Ps — Programs, Policies and Procedures. The three Ps gave leaders a clear path forward to address the highest-priority walkability issues in the city. The plan establishes clear, equitable, data-driven priorities for future investments in walking projects and programs.

Impact

In early 2016, the coalition’s work came together in the final Indianapolis/Marion County Pedestrian Plan. As the case study explains, Indy WalkWays offered city leaders and community stakeholders a framework for understanding current areas of need and prioritizing future opportunities for creating and sustaining a walkable community. The Metropolitan Development Commission formally adopted the plan in 2016 as an element of the Comprehensive Plan for Indianapolis and Marion County.

The project team has moved seamlessly from plan development to plan implementation, engaging local leaders and community stakeholders in the application of recommendations. Indy WalkWays has supported a culture of health in Indianapolis, building on the assets of the community and elevating the importance of design to make healthy choices easier for everyone.

Want to learn more about building healthier and more walkable communities? Join us at the APHA 2017 Annual Meeting for session 4007, Building Walkable Communities through Partnership and Innovation.