City Adopts Progressive General Plan Addressing Link Between the Built Environment and Public Health

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Recently, the City of Richmond, a bay area industrial and commercial hub, approved an innovative General Plan that includes a comprehensive element dedicated to community health and wellness.  The city’s General Plan, which will guide development in the city through the year 2030, is one of the first in the nation to recognize that where people live, work and play has a fundamental effect on their health.  Development of this unique General Plan element was made possible by a $225,000 grant from The California Endowment and took place over an 18-month planning process, which coincided with the City’s overall general plan update process.

California law requires each city and county in the state to develop a general plan.  A general plan is a long-range policy document, or visionary blueprint, that guides a city’s physical development and growth.  All zoning and land use approvals must be consistent with a city’s general plan. General plans contain seven mandatory elements, (circulation, conservation, housing, land use, noise, open-space, and safety), and often contain optional elements addressing infrastructure, recreation, public services and facilities; however, an element for developing conditions that will improve the physical health and emotional well-being of residents is unique.

Richmond’s visionary element addresses factors that influence mental and physical health, including nutrition, safe public spaces, walkable neighborhoods, and environmental quality.  Goals set forth in the unique element include improving access to open space and parks; development of “complete neighborhoods” that provide services and recreational resources within walking distance of homes; and supporting development of local urban agriculture.  Recognizing that many Richmond residents have better access to fast food restaurants than to grocery stores, the pioneering Community Health and Wellness Element aims to promote locally produced foods and identifies potential strategies for doing so, including, updating building codes to encourage rooftop gardening and developing a site inventory and management plan to administer use of potential urban agricultural sites.

General plan updates provide an excellent opportunity to create a framework for a healthy city, the conservation of resources, and the reduction of a community’s greenhouse gas emissions.  A municipality’s general plan update also provides landowners and developers with an opportunity to participate in shaping local land use policies and for ensuring envisioned projects are consistent with future community goals.