Effective Planning


Planning refers to how policymakers design, regulate, and manage the built environment. Land-use, zoning, and developer requirements and incentives help planners guide development patterns. This then influences other outcomes. Good planning helps community members age in place, live healthy lives, and contribute to environmental sustainability. 

Planners can use developer requirements or incentives to promote the creation of livable communities (see also this chapter’s discussion on Creating Livable and Sustainable Communities). Such conditions can, for instance, increase affordable housing in new developments. Doing so allows people from a broader range of income levels to benefit from a community’s employment opportunities, education, and amenities. One example of this is inclusionary zoning, which requires developers of market-rate housing also to include housing affordable to people with low and moderate incomes. 

In some cases, communities allow developers to pay fees in lieu of building affordable housing units on-site. These fees can then be used to build affordable housing elsewhere. Some argue that this can sometimes allow more units to be built because the cost of building housing off-site is lower. However, if fees are too low, developers pay less than they would on-site. In addition, the housing may not be in the same community as the market-rate development. This can reduce housing options in desirable neighborhoods, which limits choices for residents who need lower-cost options. It also perpetuates segregation by income, ability level, race, ethnicity, and other factors. 

Planners can create age-friendly communities that consider the needs of people at all life stages. These communities are well-designed and livable. They promote health and sustain economic growth for residents of all ages and ability levels. Conversely, poor planning can negatively affect residents. For example, it can limit a person’s transportation options to a personal vehicle. This is especially problematic for those who cannot afford a vehicle or who no longer drive. Poor planning can also limit housing options. It also can decrease access to vital amenities and services such as jobs, health care, and supermarkets. 

Land-use patterns, housing, and transportation systems influence public health and environmental quality. Failure to adequately plan land use and infrastructure can mean that residents must spend hours traveling long distances. Long commutes, in turn, result in less access to high-quality jobs and workers. They also reduce time for leisure, family, and civic activities. People who must drive long distances for work, food, or health care can suffer the health consequences of being more sedentary or isolated. These consequences can include depression, dementia, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. And the financial cost of long commutes can effectively add to the cost of housing. 

For the most part, planning has not traditionally included an evaluation of the full spectrum of health implications related to planning alternatives. But this is beginning to change. Public health practitioners have begun to work collaboratively with planners to use a health impact assessment (HIA). HIA translates data into practical information decisionmakers can use to anticipate and address the health effects of proposed programs, policies, or projects. By integrating relevant health information into their assessment of a new proposal, decisionmakers can advance well-informed policies that avoid unintended consequences and unexpected costs. 

Health in All policies are another tool to improve population health. They embed health considerations into collaborative decisionmaking processes across a broad array of sectors, such as transportation and economic development. The goal is to ensure that policymakers understand the health, equity, and sustainability consequences of their policy options and decisions. 

Parking is an essential issue in planning. Many municipalities require two parking spaces for each housing unit, even in dense urban areas with ample alternatives to driving. The cost of building this parking is then bundled into rents and housing costs, and higher prices in stores. There is also an important opportunity cost. The land used for parking cannot be used for other purposes, such as building more housing, businesses, bike lanes, and community centers. 

Moreover, parking requirements can make it infeasible to develop smaller, more compact housing that could increase supply and contribute to lower housing costs. It is critical that communities provide enough parking to meet the needs of residents. And it is vital for people with disabilities who may rely on a car to get around. But providing too much parking can be harmful as well. 

Planners can use various techniques to reduce the number of parking spots. In addition to reducing or eliminating parking requirements, they can consider the following measures to reduce the number of spots: 

Unbundled parking allows housing units and parking spots to be sold or rented separately. 

Shared parking designates spaces that can be shared among different people rather than used individually. Shared public parking is more efficient than single-use private parking because fewer spaces are needed to meet the total peak parking demand in the vicinity. 

Parking benefit districts allow people to pay the market price for parking with the revenue reinvested into the community where the spaces are located. 

When selling a townhouse, a condo, or another living unit, a developer can be permitted to rent or sell parking spaces separately. This arrangement often reduces the number of cars a homeowner chooses to own and store. 



Comprehensive and coordinated planning

Policymakers should enact comprehensive planning statutes, regulations, and incentives that create communities that promote the independence and active community engagement of older adults and serve people of all ages, ability levels, and backgrounds. They should do so through: 

  • coordinated land use, 

  • sustainable and resilient infrastructure investment, 

  • equitable and inclusive allocation of resources that supports all members of a community, 

  • a wide range of affordable and accessible housing and transportation options, 

  • policies and programs that foster positive health outcomes, 

  • adequate access to amenities and delivery of services, and 

  • full community participation, including populations that are not typically engaged. The public should have ample opportunity to provide input before policymakers make decisions on land use, housing, and transportation. 

State policymakers should require local governments to plan for a variety of affordable and appropriate housing options interspersed throughout the community. 

State and local policymakers should periodically review infrastructure and zoning requirements publicly to assess their impact on the availability of affordable housing and mixed-use development. Federal policymakers should support state and local governments that require technical assistance to conduct these activities successfully. 

Equity and inclusivity

Planning activities and goals should be inclusive and equitable. They should support positive outcomes for all community members, including people from groups that are discriminated against. This includes residents of all ages, ability levels, racial and ethnic groups, gender identities, sexual orientations, and other backgrounds. Planners should analyze how new and existing policies and plans address equity. They should modify them as needed to ensure that planning policies and activities promote equitable outcomes. 

Land use and zoning

Policymakers should make land-use and zoning decisions that promote mixed-use communities with affordable and equitable housing and transportation options. They should provide sufficient flexibility to enable innovative housing and transportation options. 

Comprehensive land-use plans that address housing and transportation should guide community design and development decisions. These plans should address related issues, including public health, pollution, and climate change. Policymakers should conduct a health impact assessment for land-use, transportation, and community design projects. They should support coordinated efforts to improve population health by adopting a Health in All Policy. 

Policymakers should use inclusionary zoning to require developers to set aside some units for people with low and moderate incomes. Those units should be developed on-site. 

If developers are instead allowed to pay fees into a housing trust fund, those fees should be: 

  • at least as high as the full cost of developing the affordable housing on-site, and 
  • used to build affordable housing in the community where the market-rate development is located. 

Policymakers should also use other zoning tools, including affordable housing districts and density bonuses, to promote the construction of high-quality affordable housing. 

States should encourage changes in local zoning regulations to permit the development and location of accessory dwelling units, manufactured homes, multifamily projects, shared housing, and other missing middle housing options, consistent with appropriate planning practices and fair housing laws. 


Local policymakers should minimize the amount of parking required for mixed-use development. They should support travel by means other than private vehicles and encourage the creation of walkable, livable communities. At the same time, policymakers should consider the needs of people with disabilities and those with limited mobility who must rely on personal vehicles. 

Local policymakers should avoid creating excess parking space and support walkable, people-centered design. Among the solutions they should consider are: 

  • reducing or eliminating parking requirements, 
  • creating parking benefit districts, and 
  • promoting shared and unbundled parking. 

Local policymakers should implement parking lot design standards and guidelines that make parking lots safer for pedestrians of all ages and people with disabilities. This includes proper illumination. 

Newly constructed or reconstructed parking lots should provide adequate parking spaces compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and based on anticipated disability rates of an aging population. Proper use of these spaces should be enforced. 

State and local governments should address parking lot safety in their pedestrian safety communications campaigns. These campaigns should be targeted to pedestrians and drivers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration should organize a national effort to collect parking lot crash statistics and use the data to inform safety countermeasures.