The Creating Healthy Places Guidebook is a resource of best practices and tools for advancing 21st century solutions for integrating public health and wellness into planning and design. The Guidebook presents a number of planning practices, design interventions, and useful tools to ensure that development projects, programs and plans contribute better to healthier neighborhoods and communities. The Guidebook is also provides real-world examples of places that have intentionally taken on actions and steps to improve health within the context of towns and cities. The intent is not to be exhaustive, but to provide jumping-off points for exploring useful and pioneering methods to create healthy places.

Who Should Use This Guidebook?

This Guidebook intends to serve as a resource and reference for a diverse set of professionals and organizations. From public health professionals to elected officials, any individual who is seeking to shape the built environment in ways that support and promote health and healthy living can utilize this document.

Professionals &

Professionals &

Through the use of this Guidebook, practitioners and professional associations can recommend, adopt, and implement evidence-based infrastructure investments, programmatic recommendations, and regulations and design guidelines that seek to enhance health

Communities &
Citizen Groups

Communities &
Citizen Groups

Neighborhood groups and communities interested in evaluating health impacts locally can use a number of the tools and practices in this Guidebook – especially the Health Assessment Lens. The public, private, and nonprofit sectors can all utilize the Guidebook by implementing any variety of the presented practices in an effort to create and cultivate environments that are conducive to and support health and healthy behaviors.



Whether a college course, high school course, or a short course for interested individuals, the Guidebook presents a rich set of information and practices for better understanding the relationship between health and the built environment. Whether use in full, or with excerpts on specific topics, the Guidebook is a useful educational resource.

How to Use this Guidebook

The Guidebook includes 24 best practices arranged into seven chapters: Community Engagement, Environment, Water, Food, Open Spaces and Streetscapes, Buildings, and Mobility. Guidebook users may choose to work with an individual practice or with an entire chapter of practices depending on the set objective. Each practice includes a brief overview, followed by a more detailed description, information on applications relating to health and design, and implementation guidance. Additionally, there are case studies and sidebars with information on other topics and tools related to health and design. Topics included in the Guidebook can be further explored through the Collaborative’s website and evaluation tools

Creating Healthy Places Guidebook

Full Guidebook

The Creating Healthy Places Guidebook culminates three years of work on researching and developing best practices for making communities healthier. The intent has been to provide new models for integrating health into the design and planning of the built environment, both educationally and professionally. Developed by students and faculty at the University of Colorado Denver’s College of Architecture and Planning, the Guidebook incorporates findings and outcomes from studios and research that began in 2016 under a generous grant from the Colorado Health Foundation.

Chapter 1: Community Engagement and Health

Community engagement is a central component in any health-related plan or program. It entails working with individuals, neighborhood coalitions, community leaders, and other entities at all stages, from research gathering to design and implementation. It includes not only education and information-sharing, but also active public participation. Authentic engagement requires honest and ongoing interactions, and the involvement of as many community members as possible. Public engagement can result in positive health outcomes, from reduced rates of illness to increased physical activity. In a larger sense, it can address issues of social equity and economic growth. This chapter addresses four topics: (1) Public Participation, (2) Economic Inclusion, (3) Community-Wide Campaigns, and (4) Health Education.

Chapter 2: Environment

From the air we breathe to the sounds that permeate our daily lives, environmental factors play a critical role in human health. Designers, planners, health professionals, and decision-makers need to take environmental conditions into account when working to improve the health and well-being of individuals and the community. Initiatives should seek to protect and restore ecosystems, and they should strive to incorporate natural elements into urban contexts. Features in the built environment that can produce positive outcomes include plants and trees, permeable surfaces, and reflective materials. Improvements to the environment can help mitigate ailments such as asthma, cancer, high blood pressures, strokes, hearing loss, and other health conditions. This chapter addresses three topics: (1) Improving Air Quality, (2) Heat Mitigation, and (3) Noise Reduction. The topic of water is addressed in Chapter Three.

Chapter 3: Water

Water is essential for life on earth, yet we struggle to properly manage this vital and precious resource. While much has been done in recent decades to reduce water pollution and to conserve water, communities around the globe and within Colorado still face serious challenges. Among the challenges are a lack of collaboration among stakeholders, stormwater problems brought on by urbanization, and depleted water supplies—all of which impact the health of communities. While planners and designers seek to address these issues, they are considering other aspects concerning water and health. Specifically, they are devising strategies to boost people’s water consumption, as inadequate hydration can cause major health problems. This chapter explores pressing issues and promising solutions related to water, health, and communities. It contains the following sections: (1) One Water Roadmap, (2) Drinking Water, (3) Green Infrastructure for Stormwater, and (4) Greywater.

Chapter 4: Food

In recent years, planning professionals have increasingly focused on the intersection of food systems and the built environment. There are many reasons for this shift, including a recognition that food systems represent a significant portion of land and a community’s economy. Moreover, access to healthy food plays a critical role in improving public health, as it can help prevent obesity, high-blood pressure, and diabetes, among other illnesses. Removing barriers to healthy food can go a long way toward benefiting both individuals and entire communities. In order to understand the complexities between a community and its food sources, this section discusses two practices: (1) Access to Healthy Food and (2) Local Production, Processing + Distribution.

Chapter 5: Homes and Buildings

The ways in which buildings are designed and constructed can influence our physical and mental health. There are numerous strategies that architects, designers, and planners can use to encourage and support healthy living. One must first look at the community as a whole and ensure there is a mix of land uses, which can help foster walkability and accessibility. When it comes to buildings, focus should be placed on elements such as stairs and gathering areas. Sustainability should also be a guiding principle. Conserving water, reducing energy usage, and enhancing indoor air quality are among the measures that can be incorporated to facilitate positive health outcomes for both people and the environment. This section covers three practices: (1) Mix of Uses, (2) Building Design, and (3) Sustainability.

Chapter 6: Public Spaces and Streetscapes

The design of the public realm influences a person’s health and well-being. Humans are social creatures who require places in which they can gather, exchange, and feel a sense of belonging. Additionally, moving from place to place should feel comfortable and safe. When possible, walking should be enabled and encouraged. Stepping out of the car and becoming a pedestrian can foster many benefits, including a sense of environmental stewardship, a stronger connection to the community, and improved physical health. In this chapter, a broad range of spaces are considered, including parks, plazas, and sidewalks. The overarching message is that open areas and streetscapes are critical elements in a built environment, particularly when it comes to human health. The following practices are addressed: (1) Open Space, (2) Pedestrian-Oriented Streets, and (3) Safe Sidewalks.

Chapter 7: Connectivity and Accessibility

Connectivity and accessibility impact the economic, physical, and mental well-being of all people. The ability to easily and safely access jobs, schools, services, shops, and recreational areas is important to maintaining good health. In the United States, historical land-use patterns have produced auto-oriented communities that create connectivity and accessibility barriers, particularly for people who are unable to drive. Planners, designers, and others involved in shaping the built environment need to consider the many dimensions of our transportation network. A comprehensive approach offers “mobility for all,” which in turn can have positive outcomes for public health. This section includes five practices: (1) Street Connectivity, (2) Transportation Demand Management, (3) Access to Transit, (4) Access to Parks, and (5) Bicycle Infrastructure.

Appendix A: Health Assessment Lens

The Health Assessment Lens is designed to inform designers, planners, and decision-makers of health conditions prior to beginning a project, plan process, or program. The purpose is to identify issues related to health and the built environment in order to inform a health-based approach to design, planning, and decision-making. It continues to be a resource for comprehensive evaluation through the development of a plan or project, and into implementation. This tool is organized around eight health categories.

Appendix B: Model Health Element

An outline of an example health element for a local jurisdiction’s comprehensive plan, or other planning processes