Neighborhood plans as tools for public health improvement : steps to a healthier Austin and neighborhood planning in Austin, Texas
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This study explores local plans as primary source documents outlining resident-requested, City-approved projects that may help reduce neighborhood-level barriers to physically active transportation and recreation. Emerging evidence suggests a link between the built environment and physical activity, but any causal relationship remains uncertain. This report begins with a literature review to discover neighborhood traits currently under investigation for correlation with higher activity levels. This is followed by an analysis of Austin Neighborhood Plans to identify community-prioritized Action Items pertinent to physical activity. Next, crime data are reviewed to assess objective and perceived safety levels in the study neighborhoods, Chestnut and East César Chávez. Finally, planners and residents are interviewed to explore how health and safety were addressed in the planning process, discover methods by which plan items have been implemented, and identify common barriers to project completion that the public health community may help bridge. Findings indicate that residents’ concerns regarding personal safety and crime may outweigh other neighborhood barriers to physical activity. Planning and health departments would be advised to address crime and safety levels as part of larger built environment efforts to encourage active transportation and recreation.