Integrating Public Health and Community Development to Tackle Neighborhood Distress and Promote Well-Being

Group dancing in the street.

Recently there have been calls for public health to reconnect to urban planning in ways that emphasize the impact of place on health and that address fundamental causes of poor health, such as poverty, social inequality, and discrimination.

Community developers have realized that poor health limits individuals’ and communities’ economic potential and have begun to integrate into their work such neighborhood health issues as access to fresh food and open space.

In this article the researchers review recent shifts in the community development field and give examples of programs that operate at the intersection of community development, public health, and civic engagement. For example, in Sacramento, California, the Building Healthy Communities program successfully promoted the creation of community gardens and bike paths and the redevelopment of brownfields. A major housing revitalization initiative in San Francisco, California, known as Sunnydale-Velasco, is transforming the city’s largest public housing site into a mixed-income community that provides existing residents with new housing, infrastructure, services, and amenities.

These examples and others illustrate the need to identify and make use of interdisciplinary approaches to ensure that all places are strong platforms for economic mobility, full democratic participation, and community health.


This research was not funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation but has been made available in this special issue of Health Affairs that focuses on community health research. Funding was provided by the Ford Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.