Presentation at the 2014 Active Living Research Annual Conference.
Background and Purpose
Bicycle and pedestrian plans have been recognized as tools for promoting active living by encouraging supportive infrastructure improvements and community design. These plans may also help raise awareness about the synergies between active living and social goals, including increasing equity and access to resources, promoting more sustainable development patterns, improving neighborhood aesthetics, protecting the environment, facilitating adaptation to climate change, and supporting local economic development. These co-benefits, along with supportive governance structures, are considered important within collaborative movements to create “Resilient Cities” (1-7). However, little is known about the extent to which bicycle and pedestrian plan content aligns with the emerging resilience planning movement (3).
Our primary objective was to investigate whether content pertaining to four resilience domains (cross-sector collaboration; consideration of co-benefits; governance; and equity) was reflected in North Carolina (NC) municipal bicycle and pedestrian plans. Additionally, we explored: (a) whether municipal sociodemographics were associated with resilience domains; and (b) whether specific plan content elements pertaining to stakeholder involvement were associated with resilience domains.
Bicycle and pedestrian plans were identified through web searches, a listserv request to NC planners, a library at NC Department of Transportation, and follow-up communications. NC bicycle (n=25) and pedestrian (n=60) plans were content-analyzed using a previously developed plan quality coding protocol. All plans were double coded; discrepancies were resolved by consensus. Combined bicycle/pedestrian plans (n=9) and older versions of revised plans were not analyzed. Sociodemographic indicators from the U.S. Census (e.g., percent of the population living in poverty, median population age, percent >= high school education, and racial composition) were collected for each municipality and merged with plan content information. We created a ‘crosswalk’ tool that linked plan quality elements to the four resilience domains. For example, documentation of the involvement of a variety of stakeholder groups in plan development contributed to the ‘cross-sector collaboration’ domain; documentation of diverse goals contributed to the ‘co-benefits’ domain; documentation of specific policies, procedures, and implementation elements contributed to the ‘governance’ domain; and plan content pertaining to social justice and vulnerable populations contributed to the ‘equity’ domain. Resilience scores, comprised of the weighted mean of content elements pertaining to each domain, were derived such that each domain score ranged from 0 (weakest) to 1 (strongest). Descriptive statistics, Pearson correlations, and linear regression analyses were used to assess relationships between specific plan content elements, sociodemographics, and resilience scores.
Overall, resilience domains were weakly reflected in NC bicycle and pedestrian plans (governance score mean (m)=0.49 (standard deviation (sd) 0.09); co-benefits m=0.43 (sd 0.13); cross-sector collaboration m=0.38 (sd 0.16); and equity m=0.21(sd 0.12)). Scores did not differ substantially by plan type (pedestrian vs. bicycle), with the exception of co-benefits, which were more frequently documented in pedestrian plans (m=0.45 (sd 0.12)) than bicycle plans (m=0.37(sd 0.12)). Although equity scores were low overall, higher equity scores were correlated with cross-sector collaboration (r=0.23, p<0.04) and governance (r=0.35, p=0.001) scores. Policies that promote pedestrian-friendly land development were correlated with higher equity (r=0.25, p=0.02) scores. Higher governance scores were correlated with higher co-benefit scores (r=0.41, p<.0001). Greater cross-sector collaboration was positively correlated with “promoting transportation-related physical activity” as a goal (r=0.24, p=0.03), and marginally associated with promoting general public health goals (r=0.21; p=0.06). Sociodemographics were generally not correlated with resilience scores, with the exception of younger age being correlated with higher co-benefits (r=0.24 (p=0.03) and governance (r=0.27 (p=0.01)) scores. After controlling for sociodemographics, certain content elements were predictive of higher resilience scores. For example, higher co-benefit scores were associated with having Parks and Recreation staff (ß=0.07; p=0.03) and land use planners (ß=0.08; p=0.04) involved in developing the plan. Having a steering committee/advisory board comprised of citizens and public officials was associated with higher governance scores for all plans (ß=0.16, p<0.001), and with higher co-benefits scores for bicycle plans (ß=0.29, p=0.04), but not for pedestrian plans. Involvement of community-based organizations was associated with higher equity scores (ß =0.10, p=0.02).
These findings suggest that NC bicycle and pedestrian plans may be under-utilized in terms of their potential to promote integration of evidence-based active living content with elements supportive of resilient communities. Resilience planning is an emerging planning paradigm that can serve as a springboard for creating a ‘new norm’ and identifying opportunities for richer dialogue at the interface of collaborative planning initiatives.
Implications for Practice and Policy
Resilience requires the ability to adapt not only to large-scale perturbations and disasters, but also to slow changes, aligning with a chronic disease prevention orientation. Although considerable progress has been made in forging connections between public health professionals, urban planners, and other disciplines to promote active living, an opportunity exists to explore resilience planning as a process through which to raise awareness about co-benefits, strengthen commitments to equity, and broaden the active living agenda.
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Support / Funding Source
This work was supported by grants from RWJF Active Living Research.