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LA County's New Standards For Health-Conscious Urban Design

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The County Board of Supervisors today approved the Healthy Design Ordinance, which rewrites planning regulations in unincorporated parts of the county to "modify and establish uses, development standards, and permit requirements to encourage more walking, bicycling and exercise, and encourage better access to healthy foods." The HDO is the latest effort from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health's Project RENEW (Renew Environments for Nutrition, Exercise and Wellness), which is working to "implement policy, systems and environmental changes to improve nutrition, increase physical activity, and reduce obesity, especially in disadvantaged children."

Here are some things the HDO will do: 1) Streamline the process required to establish farmers' markets and community gardens (for instance, community gardens will now be allowed in areas zoned anywhere from R-1 for single-family residences to R-4 for unlimited residences), 2) Require pedestrian and bicycle access to "cultural, recreational, and lifelong learning facilities," and 3) Propose other changes, such as wider sidewalks, bicycle parking, and shade tree plantings (all of which, according to the report, "directly enable and encourage residents to make more healthy choices related to physical activity and diet").

Here's an example of how the ordinance will change the development process: exhibit maps, which are required to accompany all county development proposals, will now have to include dimensions and locations for things like vehicle and bicycle parking, crosswalks, trees, and street lights. The ordinance also includes a long section that details the types of street diagrams that will work (e.g., 12 foot sidewalks on urban streets) and those that will not (e.g., two foot sidewalks on collector streets).

The board voted unanimously to approve the ordinance while also approving an amendment that directs the County CEO to report back to the Board of Supervisors within 180 days about additional practices the county can implement. The amendment cites best practices from the Healthy Communities Report: Active Transportation Design Guidance and Recommendations and the "Model Design Manual for Living Streets" as examples of further work that could be done. A full set of materials explaining the Healthy Design Ordinance is available here.
· Healthy Design Ordinance [Department of Regional Planning]