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Build a Healthy Environment

What is a healthy environment? Why does it matter?

Did you know that where you live determines how healthy you are or that your zip code can be a good predictor of your life expectancy? We can all imagine how living next to a polluting factory may have a direct and negative influence on our health, but did you know that chronic diseases like asthma, diabetes and heart disease are more closely linked to what you have access to and how you access it? rather than what you live next to? For example, are there grocery stores that sell healthy food, safe pedestrian routes, and places for children to play and get exercise nearby?

The tools, groups, and presentations below can help engaged citizens, planners, engineers, public health staff, and allied professionals to assess the potential healthfulness of a proposed project, or assess the healthfulness of an existing neighborhood or community.  Understanding current community conditions and potential impacts of proposed developments can inform planning and policy decisions that can support healthful living.

Explore the tools, presentations, and groups in the "Build a Healthy Environment" section to discover ways to assess and promote healthful development.

Activity on the Eureka Waterfront. Credit: J. Kalt
Public space provides opportunities for physical activity and encourages social cohesion.

Working Groups and Coalitions
Workshops and Events
Tools for Building a Healthy Environment
     • The Health Impact Assessment (HIA)
     • The Humboldt County Healthy Development Measurement Tool (HHDMT)
     • The Healthy Development Checklist (HDCL)
     • Other Tools

blue star Working Groups and Coalitions

HumPAL has collaborated with a diverse group of organizations and agencies to raise awareness and promote policy work focused on the relationship of the built environment and public health.

Complete Streets Working Group (CSWG)

Comprised of the Humboldt Partnership for Active Living, the California Center for Rural Policy, Healthy Humboldt Coalition, Green Wheels, Area 1 Agency on Aging, Tri-County Independent Living, Humboldt Del Norte IPA, Bigfoot Bicycle Club, Trails Trust of Humboldt Bay, Humboldt Bay Bicycle Commuter's Association, and SafePATHS (Planning Areawide Trails, Highways, and Streets), the Complete Streets Working Group has crafted policy recommendations on the Circulation Element of the General Plan, currently under review by the Humboldt County Planning Commission. Learn more about this effort.

blue star Workshops & Events

HumPAL has hosted and sponsored a number of workshops, trainings, and events designed to increase awareness and build capacity around the relationship between public health and the built environment.  In addition to featured trainings, HumPAL has been integral to bike rodeos, Safe Routes to Schools events, and other events for both the public and professionals.  See the Workshop & Events pages to learn more.

• Featured Workshop: CCLDHE Learning Forum: "Institutionalizing Built Environment Work in Local Departments of Public Health" (May 2011)

Tools for building Healthier Communities


The Healthy Development Checklist are a group of related tools that allow planners, health professionals, and interested laypersons to assess the potential public health impacts of a project or program.  HumPAL has participated in adapting these tools for rural communities.

How do the HIA, HDMT, and HDCL fit together?

The Humboldt HDMT is a series of indicators of health. To date, two projects have been completed by selecting certain indicators and using the data to assess the health impact of a policy or program: The Humboldt County General Plan Update HIA Report and the Healthy Development Checklist. Many other projects are possible by using the indicators to assess impacts on health.

HIA, HDMT, and HDCL diagram

Humboldt County Healthy Development Measurement Tool (HHDMT)

HumPAL and partners created the first rural Healthy Development Measurement Tool in the United States. It is a comprehensive evaluation metric used to consider health needs in rural development plans and projects, used to objectively assess and measure the community health impacts of a development project and is used to inform decisions about projects or policies. The tool consists of six "sections" or "elements" as the major subject areas. The "objectives" describe desired outcomes of the planning process. "Health indicators" are measurable factors used to evaluate a current or proposed development or plan in relation to an objective. The "development goals" portion of the Humboldt HDMT provides specific measurable ways to achieve objectives, and is still being developed.

- Visit the Humboldt HDMT page to view the health indicators and download the tool (by section, in PDF format).
- Learn about the urban-based SFDPH HDMT at

Health Impact Assessment (HIA)

Health Impact Assessments (HIA) are “a combination of procedures, methods and tools by which a policy, program or project may be judged as to its potential effects on the health of a population, and the distribution of those effects within the population” (Gothenburg Consensus).

According to Waldo Tobler, the First Law of Geography is “everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things.” When a new project or policy is brought about in a neighborhood or community, it will have direct effects on the people who live and work there and HIAs are a tool that helps planners, decision-makers and community members understand how the project or policy might affect the health of the people who live in the community or neighborhood. In turn, the entire community has an opportunity to work together to lessen the negative impacts of a project or policy.

Find out how HIAs have been used in Humboldt County on the HIA page.

Healthy Development Checklist (HDCL)

The Healthy Development Checklist (HDCL) is a community and project assessment tool; it's a method for planners and engaged citizens to collect different measurements and indicators of health in the built environment.  The HDCL contains metrics for: land use, safe and sustainable transportation, safety and social cohesion, environmental stewardship, and housing and neighborhood design.  Each of these categories contains checkpoints for qualities that impact health; considered together, the surveyors will have a preliminary gauge for assessing the healthfulness of a neighborhood, community, or proposed project. For more information on the HDCL, including the downloadable tool, visit the HDCL page.

Other Healthy Environment Tools

Walkability Audits

A Walkability audit, also known as a walking workshop, is a useful tool for assessing the walkability (i.e., how easy and safe it is to walk) of a particular neighborhood or area of interest.  Walkability audits are experiential, that is, the auditors actually walk the roads and paths they are assessing to gain a real sense of what it's like to experience walking in the study area.  A set of criteria are used to measure different aspects of walkability, such as visibility, safety, and walking surfaces. 

Since 2005, HumPAL has participated in and led numerous walking audits in the Humboldt County communities of Rio Dell, Manila, McKinleyville, Arcata, Eureka, and Fortuna.  For more information on Walkability audits, visit the Walkability Audit page.

 • Transportation Demand Management

Transportation demand management, or TDM, refers to strategies that improve the efficiency of transportation resources and reduce travel demand. The goal of TDM is to reduce the number of single-occupancy private vehicles on roads, as well as the number of vehicle miles traveled (VMT). "Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) is the total number of miles driven by all vehicles within a given time period and geographic area. It is used by regional transportation and environmental agencies for planning purposes. VMT is influenced by factors such as population, age distribution, and the number of vehicles per household. However, the greatest factor by far is how land uses are arranged" (StreetsBlog).

Why Manage Transportation Demand?

It saves people money! As gas prices increase, employees, business owners, and others can save money on gas by having a lot of travel options available to them - taking the bus, walking, carpooling, riding a bike, telecommuting... Managing transportation demand can also help address the problems of traffic congestion, air pollution, and related health and safety risks (collisions, asthma for example). Also a concern is the amount of land needed to accommodate vehicle traffic and parking. Using TDM approaches can lead to better environmental outcomes, improved public health, stronger communities, and more prosperous and livable communities. Learn about the Humboldt County TDM Pilot Project.