Helping planners center health equity in their practice

A national membership organization, APA is supporting local and regional planners by providing tactical guidance and examples on how to embed health equity in their planning practice.


A mix of roadblocks to realizing health equity

Planners face ample roadblocks to realizing health equity goals in their projects. For example, city departments may not have established systems or necessary skills to collaborate across disciplines — planning, transportation, parks — despite their shared responsibility to improve the public realm. They may also lack access to resources for partnering with community-based leaders and organizations who are essential to carrying out place-based projects. Planners may consider equitable community engagement as a primary strategy to address equity and not focus on other components: such as understanding histories of discrimination to determining long-range sustainability of projects and plans. Moreover, they may view health equity in terms of inequitable health outcomes and not think about social determinants of health and root causes of those inequities.

People are ready, planners are ready, and local governments are ready to focus on equity in all aspects of the work. But beyond tangible outcomes like community engagement, people are struggling on how to address equity.



Helping put theory into practice

APA is developing a guide for planners to help them identify tangible ways to center equity in their community development and public space planning processes. They’re working with a national group of planners from a demographically and geographically diverse set of communities — including smaller ones lacking concrete examples and precedents of how to embed equity into their planning practice. 

For example, the Framework is being applied to:

  • Facilitate workshops · Convening around the Framework encourages planners to think comprehensively about the lifecycle of a project, from the context and history, to how people are engaged in the process, to the physical design, and to the long-term sustainability — and set strategies for putting it to work in their communities. 
  • Create actionable steps for planners · Translating the Framework into a guide helps planners implement its principles, drivers, indicators, and metrics in a way that is responsive to their unique context.

We often hear from planners, ‘Well this is beyond our role. The transportation department does that.’ The Framework helps expand their horizons and forces planners to think more broadly about their projects.


There needs to be healing and trust-building that happens before planning processes. These should be the preconditions for successful planning projects.


This Framework is defining the term equity for planners. Planners right now aren’t able to define it comprehensively. With the examples in the guide, it would be very beneficial. We will be getting closer to an equitable process.


There tends to be an attitude that if we did equity in public engagement, that checks our equity box. … There is less knowledge or understanding about how to integrate equity beyond that.