Changing the Built Environment to Encourage Physical Activity



Focusing on policy frameworks and engaging community partnerships, GAO has been able to create sustainable changes in community design by recognizing the connection between land-use planning, transportation, public health, and economic development. The initiative’s most important goal is to reduce health disparities by reducing community barriers to routine physical activity. That goal is grounded in the belief that by making opportunities more accessible, physical activity is easy, safe, convenient, affordable and practical or active living choices really are no longer a choice, they are how we live.

Designated in 2006 as the Active Living Advisory Committee for the City of Orlando Mayor and Council, GAO started the process for change by defining the goals for achievement, researching the different levels of policy at the organization, local, state, and federal levels, and utilizing national frameworks such as Safe Routes to School, Smart Growth, Active Living by Design, and Complete Streets for guidance. These strategies all contributed to creating city-wide policies and plans that form the basis for a balanced land use and transportation system that puts people first.

Aiming to incorporate active living considerations into the city culture, one of the policy changes adopted into the Families, Parks and Recreation Element of The City of Orlando Comprehensive Plan states:


Active Living by Design is a program meant to create environments with comprehensive supports for active living. Residents should have easy access to physical activity programs and healthy environments should be considered a high priority. Workplaces, schools, and other organizations should be encouraged to provide regular incentives which promote physical activity. Healthy community environments should provide safe, convenient, and integrated facilities such as sidewalks, greenways, and neighborhood parks that enable people to be active.


The assessment created a Level of Service (LOS) benchmark of the physical environment for bicycle and pedestrian movement, helping the partnership gain an understanding of the assets and impediments to active living. Replicable elsewhere, the survey utilized standardized LOS concepts for quantitative data, based on a model developed by Sprinkle Consultants, Inc. and perception questions for qualitative data focused on safety, shade and visual appeal of the street environment.


Due to these policy frameworks and plans created over the last five years under the influence of GAO, several successful community gardens and park projects have resulted; in particular, Z.L. Riley Park and the Orlando Urban Mountain Bike Park.


Scheduled to open in Spring 2011, the Orlando Urban Mountain Bike Park is a community driven effort that makes use of vacant City park land, $50,000 in construction funding from the Winter Park Health Foundation, operation and maintenance provided by the Ocala Mountain Bike Association, and separate federal transportation funding to construct a bicycle/pedestrian connection through the park to a local trail network.

The goals of Get Active Orlando have been accomplished by staying focused on the core vision, implementing incremental and consistent change, with each step building on the previous, to create healthier and livable communities.

Author :Malisa Mccreedy, AICP Director of Happiness and Health Walkable and Livable Communities Institute (WALC)

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