Built Environment 101

be 101

Healthy Community Design Health and the built environment are intricately linked (Design for Health). How the built environment affects physical activity and how changes in the environment can promote active living are issues that have captured public attention. Nationally, organizations and local governments are collaborating with planners and engineers to be more involved in decision-making processes, using their expertise in issues related to the built environment, such as land use planning and healthy community design, with the goal of improving community health outcomes (NACCHO). 

Community design influences behavior and health outcomes through multiple ways, including facilitating physical activity through the presence of sidewalks or preventing the consumption of healthy foods due to the absence of grocery stores. Healthy community design links elements of planning including land use, transportation, housing, and parks and open space with health themes such as, physical activity, the natural environment, public safety, pollutants, and epidemiological issues (Design for Health). Below are some healthy community design principles and benefits when incorporated in a proposed development project. 

Health and Equity 
HIAs and HIRs can identify existing health inequities and provide communities that are more adversely effected by those inequities with an opportunity to voice their concerns and become a part of the decision making process. For more information on how HIAs promote health equity, see NACCHO’s report.

Health in All Policies:
Health in All Policies (HiAP) is a collaborative approach to improving population health by incorporating health considerations into decision-making across sectors and policy areas. The goal of HiAP is to ensure that all decision-makers are informed about the health consequences of various policy options during the policy development process.2


There are various examples of healthy community design elements being implemented locally in the Houston and Harris County area, such as the following:

Houston-Galveston Area Council (HGAC) Livable Centers Program

The Livable Centers works with local communities to create a built environment where people are able to access destinations with less reliance on their cars by incorporating amenities such as pedestrian and bicycle facilities. The Livable Centers Program also promotes a sense of community and an increase in jobs leading to an outcome of improved quality of life. 

Houston Complete Streets

The Complete Streets and Transportation Plan goal is to provide walkable and bike-friendly neighborhoods that are safe and accessible for people of all abilities. The Complete Streets approach is incorporated into the City of Houston’s Major Thoroughfare and Freeway Plan annual process. 

Health Community Design Principles
Healthy Community Design Benefits


Mixed-land use

Public transit

Pedestrian and bicycle-friendly

Accessible and socially equitable community

Housing for different incomes and different stages of life

Green spaces and parks that are easy to walk to

Safe public places for social interaction

Fresh, healthy food outlets


Improve air and water quality

Lower the risk of traffic-related injuries

Increase opportunities for physical activity

Increase access to healthy food

Increase social connectivity and sense of community

Ensure social equity for all community members

Promote good mental health

Figure 2: Center for Disease Control and Prevention Healthy Community Design Principles and Benefits (CDC)

For more information on what healthy community design looks like click on the worksheet created by HCPH.

Healthy Community Design in Harris County

NEXT: Why Conduct HIA?


  1. Design for Health. (2017, November). Integrating Health into Comprehensive Planning. Retrieved from Resources: http://designforhealth.net/integrating-health-into-comprehensive-planning/
  2. National Association of County and City Health Officials. (2017, November). Healthy Community Design. Retrieved from Programs: Community Health: https://www.naccho.org/programs/community-health/healthy-community-design
  3. Adapted from: Public Health Institute. (2013). Health in All Policies: A Guide for State and Local Government. Retrieved from http://www.phi.org/resources/?resource=hiapguide
  4. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017, November). Healthy Community Design Checklist Toolkit. Retrieved from Healthy Places: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyplaces/toolkit/