Building Healthy Places: Three Models in Colorado


The ULI Building Healthy Places Initiative, which will involve all parts of the Urban Land Institute, kicked off this spring with a series of Advisory Services panels convened in three different types of communities in Colorado. These panels were conducted at the request of the Colorado Health Foundation, which has its own Healthy Places initiative, a five-year, $4.5 million effort.

In a recent Urban Land article, ULI senior resident fellow Ed McMahon, who was chair of the three panels, offers his observations on lessons learned from the panels. From his piece:

  • There is no one-size-fits-all solution for creating a healthy community. Each community is different, so each community requires a unique set of solutions tailored to overcoming its liabilities and taking advantage of its key assets.
  • In every community studied—urban, suburban, and rural—the design of buildings, streets, and neighborhoods to some degree makes physical activity unnatural, difficult, or dangerous, especially for children, the elderly, or people who are disabled. For example, in every community, sidewalk connections between neighborhoods and major activity centers like schools, parks, and shopping areas were nonexistent or incomplete. Even where sidewalks existed, often they were so narrow that two people could not walk abreast.
  • In order for a healthy communities initiative to gain traction, local business leaders and elected officials must think long and hard about the connections between economic development and health. In Lamar, for example, the panel learned that organized sports (primarily baseball and football) and outdoor recreation (particularly rodeo and equestrian activities) are major attractions for visitors. Therefore, one of recommendations for Lamar is to think about sports and recreation facilities not just as nice amenities, but as necessities for economic development.
  • People will not walk as part of their daily routine unless at least two ingredients are present: attractive or important destinations to walk to (such as a healthy downtown, a major park, or a school), and a route that is safe and interesting. People simply do not like to walk along busy arterial streets, past empty parking lots, or along ugly commercial strips.
  • Creating healthy places is only partially about making changes in the built environment; it is also about programs and activities. It is one thing to provide a park or to build a sidewalk; it is another to get people to use the park or sidewalk. For example, the panel learned in one community that a child had been assaulted while walking to school alone. In a case like this, even the most complete and well-designed sidewalk network will not be enough to overcome parents’ fears about letting their children walk to school alone. The solution: “walking school buses”—a program in which the school system organizes teams of volunteer parents to walk designated routes to and from school each day, picking up and dropping off children much as a school bus would.

Read the full article

2 comments on “Building Healthy Places: Three Models in Colorado

  1. Thank you for the models for healthy community, and I would to add to the discussion about “connecting all of the dots”. That is such a key challenge in achieving real progress on this issue. Help in navigating the wide range of important considerations, such as FES, along with complex range of players, organizations and resources involved is essential to produce results. Models, such as the ones presented, and other case examples of success are very valuable to making that happen.

  2. I would like to add to the discussion the desire to have family economic security (FES) considered an important part to a healthy community. The importance of FES is understanding the connection between the social, environmental, fiscal and security of a healthy community. Without decent housing, fair wage employment, affordable transportation, accessible education, opportunities for kids, and healthy nutrious food we are not connecting all of the dots. Economic development, community development and family economic security are the legs of the building block of healthy communities.

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