The city of Richmond, California, is one of the first cities in the country to develop a comprehensive general plan element that addresses the link between public health and community design. Nearly 40% of Richmond's residents live in poverty and over 60% are African American and Latino.[1] This element addresses health impacts of community design decisions, such as zoning, on all Richmond residents as well as the historic impacts on low-income communities and communities of color, which share a disproportionately higher burden of negative health impacts. The General Plan considers factors such as physical activity, nutrition, non-motorized travelers' safety, hazardous materials and contamination, air and water quality, housing quality, preventive medical care, homelessness, and violence, among others.

General plans are mandated for every city and county in California and typically cover a 20- to 30-year time period. Local authorities, either the Planning Commission and City Council for cities, or the Board of Supervisors for counties, must adopt a general plan. In practice, most local authorities appoint committees of residents to inform the process. In California, the Governor's Office of Planning and Research outlines guidance for development of these plans, including the various elements that must be involved. Other states have similar requirements (and often refer to these plans as "Master Plans"). To date, elements directly addressing the health and justice implications of community design have never been included in the guidance but they are gaining attention.


[1] U.S. Census Bureau. State & County QuickFacts. Richmond, California. Available at: Accessed on April 3, 2009.

From: A Time of Opportunity: Local Solutions to Reduce Inequities in Health and Safety