Professional Practice

Healthy and Livable Communities

The prevalence of low-density, automobile-dependent communities has resulted in unsustainable lifestyles that increasingly threaten human health and well-being. In addition to inflating housing and transportation costs and increasing carbon emissions, disconnected communities reliant on cars create sedentary lifestyles. The lack of access to environments that encourage daily exercise, provide clean air and water and offer affordable services and nutritious food has meant growing epidemics of depression, obesity, diabetes, asthma, and heart disease.

Working with landscape architects, communities can promote human health and well-being by encouraging the development of environments that offer rich social, economic, and environmental benefits. Healthy, livable communities improve the welfare and well-being of people by expanding the range of affordable transportation, employment, and housing choices through "Live, Work, Play" developments; incorporating physical activity into components of daily life; preserving and enhancing valuable natural resources; providing access to affordable, nutritious, and locally produced foods distributed for less cost; and creating a unique sense of community and place.

Landscape architects help communities maximize opportunities for daily exercise like walking and biking. Landscape architects encourage communities to move towards compact, transit-oriented land-uses by designing Complete Streets and other transportation networks that connect mixed-use developments, neighborhood schools, and a range of affordable housing choices.  They assist communities in developing healthy green buildings and open spaces that promote efficient water and energy use and provide substantial amounts of vegetation to clean air and cool temperatures. In doing so, these communities can avoid the expensive health epidemics associated with automobile dependence, sedentary lifestyles, along with the high costs to the environment brought by dysfunctional patterns of living.


Center for Local Communities, Local Governments Commission

Congress for New Urbanism 

Green Communities, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

HUD-DOT-EPA Partnership for Sustainable Communities

International Downtown Association

LEED-Neighborhood Development (ND)

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)  

Smart Growth America 

Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES)

Urban Land Institute

U.S. Conference of Mayors


"Dr. Richard Jackson: We Are No Longer Creating Wellbeing," The Dirt blog

"E.P.A. Smart Growth Awards Laud Projects That Use Collaborative Approaches and Reclaim Public Space," The Dirt blog

Interview with Anthony Flint, Author of Wrestling with Moses, ASLA

Interview with David Owen, Author of Green Metropolis, ASLA

Interview with Jan Gehl, Author of Cities for People, ASLA 

Interview with Kathryn Gustafson, ASLA, on Fighting Sprawl with Parks, ASLA

Interview with Sadhu Johnston, Chief Environment Officer, City of Chicago, ASLA

"Livability to the Rescue," The Dirt blog

"The Effect of Place on Energy Use and Climate Change," The Dirt blog


"The Unbearable Costs of Sprawl," Congress for New Urbanism


Dockside Green, Victoria, Vancouver Island

High Line Park, New York, NY (James Corner Field Operations)

High Point, Seattle, Washington (Mithun)

Public Health & Community Design

With health epidemics associated with sprawl on the rise, there is growing demand for communities that get people moving and reduce the onslaught of depression, obesity, diabetes, asthma, and heart disease. Communities can also be designed to reduce traffic fatalities and crime rates. When communities take these issues seriously, they become people-friendly places that promote healthy living and feel safe and secure.

A recent study from the Victoria Transport Policy Institute demonstrates that people who "drive less, exercise more, and live longer, and are generally healthier than residents of communities without high-quality public transportation." Landscape architects design multi-modal sustainable transportation infrastructure such as public transit, which force people to walk and climb stairs, and well-lit, tree-lined streets with sidewalks and bike lanes, which enable safe and convenient physical activity. These systems provide healthy alternatives to automobile transportation. In addition, landscape architects create parks, green streets, and even green roofs, which encourage physical activity by making outdoor spaces more attractive, cooler, with cleaner air.

Communities can also invest in healthy green schools built along new and improved transportation infrastructure and connected to neighborhoods via sidewalks, bike trails, transit service, and roadways that provide safe routes to school. Landscape architects design green school campuses with indoor and outdoor learning environments, which are also available for community activities.

In addition, landscape architects work with communities to create urban agriculture projects that provide access to safe, affordable, and nutritious food that is locally produced and distributed. These initiatives make productive use of vacant lots and derelict spaces, transforming them into safe environments for youth education and community interaction. They can provide resources for green hospitals where studies have shown that organic food gardens help patients recover faster.


Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture

Active Community Environments, Center for Disease Control and Prevention

Communities by Design, American Institute of Architects (AIA)

Designing and Building Healthy Places, Center for Disease Control and Prevention

National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO)

National Complete Streets Coalition

Partners for Livable Communities

Planning for Public Health, American Planning Association (APA)

Safe Routes to Schools 

Walkable and Livable Communities Institute


Active Living Research, Robert Woods Johnson Foundation

Active Design Guidelines, NYC Department of Design and Construction

Bike 2015 Plan, City of Chicago

Designing for Active Living, ASLA

Environmental Health Clinic, New York University

Green Streets Project, Edmonston, Maryland

Healthy School Environments, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

"How to Design a Bicycle City," The Dirt blog

Infrastructure for All, ASLA

Interview with Joyce Lee, Director, NYC Active Design Progam, ASLA

Interview with Paul Morris, FASLA, on Designing Healthy Communities, ASLA

"Living Near Public Transportation May Extend Your Life," The Dirt blog

My Environment, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

"Reconnecting Philadelphia to Its Riverfront," The Dirt blog

Street Design Manual, NYC Department of Transportation Street Design Manual

Urban Bikeway Design Guide, NACTO

Walk Score


"Evaluating Public Transport Health Benefits," Victoria Transport Policy Institute / APTA, 2010

"Frederick Law Olmsted and the Campaign for Public Health," Places, 2010.

Active Transportation for America: The Case for Increased Federal Investment in Bicycling and Walking,” Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

"The Built Environment: Designing Communities to Promote Physical Activity in Children," American Academy of Pediatrics, June 2009

Creating Livable Communities: Housing and Transit Policy in the 21st Century,” Robert Puentes, Senior Fellow, Metropolitan Policy Program, Brookings Institution, March 2009  

"Healthy Community Design Expert Workshop Report," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2009

Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-Being,” Esther M. Sternberg, MD, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009

Healthier, Wealthier, Wiser: A Report on National Green Schools,” Global Green USA

Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center Case Study Compendium,” January 2009

Restorative Commons: Creating Health and Well-Being through Urban Landscapes,” Lindsay Campbell and Anne Wiesen, Editors, U.S. Forest Service, January 2009

"Walking the Walk: How Walkability Raises Home Values in U.S. Cities," Joe Cortright, CEOs for Cities, 2009

Creating Livable Cities for All Ages: Intergenerational Strategies and Initiatives,” Willem van Vliet, University of Colorado / UN-Habitat, 2008

One More Broken Window: The Impact of the Physical Environment on Schools,” Perpetuity Group, December 2008

Neighborhood Greenness and 2-Year Changes in Body Mass Index of Children and Youth,” Janice Bell, et al., American Journal of Preventive Medecine, 2008 

Footloose and Fancy Free: A Field Survey of Walkable Urban Places in the Top 30 Metropolitan Areas,” Christopher B. Leinberger, Metropolitan Policy Program, Brookings Institution, 2007

Urban Sprawl and Public Health: Designing, Planning, and Building for Healthy Communities,” Howard Frumkin, Lawrence Frank, Richard Joseph Jackson. Island Press, 2004

Creating a Healthy Environment: The Impact of the Built Environment on Public Health,” Richard Jackson and Chris Kochtitzky, Center for Disease Control and Prevention

 “Understanding the Relationship Between Public Health and the Build Environment,” LEED-ND Core Committee

Creating Great Neighborhoods: Density in Your Community,” Local Government Commission / EPA, 2003

"What Olmsted Knew," Richard Joseph Jackson, MD, MPH, Director, National Center for Environmental Health, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2001


Boston Children’s Museum Plaza, Boston, Massachusetts (Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc.)

Gowanus Canal Sponge Park, Brooklyn, New York (Dlandstudio)

Lagoon Park: Living at the Edge of Wilderness, Santa Barbara, California (Van Atta Associates, Inc.)

Nueva School, Hillsborough, California (Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture)

Rooftop Haven for Urban Agriculture, Chicago, Illinois (Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects)

Seattle Green Factor, Seattle, Washington (City of Seattle Department of Planning and Development)

Mount Tabor Middle School Rain Garden, Portland, Oregon (Kevin Robert Perry, ASLA)

Sidwell Friends School, Washington, D.C.


Incorporating sustainable design into housing can not only make housing more affordable -- these practices lower transportation, energy, and water use costs -- but they can also improve a community’s well-being. Disadvantaged communities often lack affordable and sustainable transportation infrastructure such as sidewalks, bike lanes, and public transit options. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 55 percent of annual incomes are currently being spent on housing and transportation, whereas the threshold for an affordable lifestyle that encourages savings is 45 percent. To combat this trend, communities can work with landscape architects to create housing strategically located in dense, mixed-use and transit-oriented developments that increase mobility and lower the combined costs of housing and transportation.

Communities also increase well-being by encouraging sustainable employment growth patterns. Commercial and industrial centers and other places of employment should be strategically located to reduce travel distances between work, home, shopping, personal services, entertainment, and other activities. Landscape architects and planners work with communities to create affordable "Live, Work, Play" communities that offer safe, walkable and bikable environments. 

In addition, disadvantaged communities also often lack green infrastructure like parks, green roofs, and trees. To lower water and energy costs, communities can work with landscape architects to create green infrastructure systems, which offer multiple benefits. Not only do sustainable green spaces lower long-term water management and energy costs, but they also clean air and water, and can be used to grow fresh produce. In addition, older housing can also undergo energy efficiency retrofits and weathering to further improve affordability.


Center for Neighborhood Technology

Center for Transit-Oriented Development

Reconnecting America


Housing and Tranportation Affordability Index, Center for Neighborhood Technology

Housing + Transportation Calculator, Urban Land Institute

Workforce and Affordable Housing, Urban Land Institute


Creating Livable Communities: Housing and Transit Policy in the 21st Century,” Robert Puentes, Senior Fellow, Metropolitan Policy Program, Brookings Institution, March 2009  

Green Affordable Housing Initiative Case Study: SOLARA,” Global Green USA. April, 2009

Green Cities: How Urban Sustainability Efforts Can and Must Drive America’s Climate Change Policies,” Living Cities, May 2009

Job Sprawl Revisited: The Changing Geography of Metropolitan Employment,” Elizabeth Kneebone, Metropolitan Policy Program, Brookings Institution, April 2009

Effects of TOD on Housing, Parking, and Travel,” Robert Cevero, Center for Transit Oriented Development, Urban Land Institute, August 2008 

Preserving Opportunities: Saving Affordable Homes Near Transit,” Reconnecting America and the National Housing Trust, February, 2008

Affordable Housing and Smart Growth: Making the Connection,” Danielle Arigoni, National Neighborhood Coalition, Smart Growth Network, 2001


Porchscapes: An Affordable LEED Neighborhood Development (University of Arkansas Community Design Center)  

Low-Carbon Land Use

Issues concerning public health, land use, and transportation are inextricably linked. Land consumption caused by the growth of metropolitan regions often results in the permanent loss of rural open space, farms, and forest lands, along with the pollution of watersheds. As suburbs grow and automobile infrastructure expands, urban air and water quality deteriorates, and traffic and carbon emissions increase.

Landscape architects can help promote sustainable land use practices through transit-oriented development centered on cost-effective multi-modal transportation. These measures improve accessibility while decreasing automobile dependence, fossil fuel consumption, and carbon emissions, thereby improving air quality and promoting public health. Landscape architects also create sustainable landscapes through the development of derelict land into public parks and the design of neighborhood and residential landscapes that promote water and energy efficiency.  

Go to Resources guides on Climate Change and Landscape Architecture and Sustainable Urban Development to learn more.


Communities should be beautiful places, reflecting the time-honored tradition of civic commitment to high quality and lasting public works.  Placemaking practices strive to achieve a unique sense of community and place while preserving and enhancing natural and cultural resources. These practices strategically reshape the physical and social character of a community around civic spaces and cultural activities, ultimately resulting in lasting public works that promote people’s health, happiness, and well-being. In promoting placemaking, communities should protect and even enhance their natural, cultural, and scenic resources by respecting their existing character and avoiding environmental degradation. Placemaking can also be achieved through revitalization efforts that reconfigure existing streetscapes and incorporate vacant lots into new developments created for the human scale. 

Landscape architects can help communities create places that preserve or enhance natural or cultural resources, spur economic development, attract tourists, and create connections. Traffic-dominated streets, little-used parks, and isolated, underperforming public spaces that contribute to a sense of desertion and placelessness can become places that bring a community back, and eventually help redefine it. For example, brownfields and other vacant lots can be ecologically restored and rehabilitated, becoming new places such as parks and recreation areas with promenades and bikeways. These new landscapes can also harvest stormwater, be used to grow community gardens, or become spaces for a range of vital artistic and cultural events. 


Placemaking Chicago

Project for Public Spaces


From Brownfield to Community Park, ASLA

"The Case for Placemaking without the Sprawl," The Dirt blog  

Creativity and Neighborhood Development: Strategies for Community Investment, The Reinvestment Fund

"Integrating Art Into the Built Environment: Design Excellence in Public Places," Boston Society of Architecture

Interview with John Bela, ASLA, on User-generated Urbanism
, ASLA  

Our Town Communities, National Endowment for the Arts

Placemaking New Zealand 

"The Many Benefits of Public Art," The Dirt blog

"What is Placemaking?", Project for Public Spaces


"Creative Placemaking," Mayor's Institute on City Design

"Places in the Making," Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)  


Brooklyn Bridge Park, New York, NY (Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates)

Bryant Park, New York, NY (OLIN)

Campus Martius Park, Detroit, Michigan

The Artery Project, San Franscisco, California

The Red Ribbon - Tanghe River Park, Qinhuangdao City, Hebei Province, China (Turenscape)

The Steelyard Park, Providence, Rhode Island (Klopfer Martin Design Group)

Teardrop Park, New York, NY (Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc.)

Zhongshan Shipyard Park, Zhongshang City, Guangdong (Turenscape)

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