Sacramento Codifies Healthy Design at All Scales

Sacramento County is one of the pioneering regions to have successfully introduced Active Design into a comprehensive array of building and planning policies, most notably the updated zoning code that was adopted in July 2015. This two-year effort was spearheaded by a small but enthusiastic cross-sector team known as “Design 4 Active Sacramento” (D4AS). D4AS convened a wide range of unique expertise, mobilized local networks, and leveraged the timing of new policies to create the framework for a healthier future for the county and region. The team successfully codified Active Design strategies within housing, zoning, and design regulations, ensuring that health is a primary component for development in the county.

The work began when the original members of D4AS came together in Atlanta in January 2013 to participate in a yearlong national public health leadership program sponsored by the CDC. Inspired by the Active Design Guidelines, they returned to Sacramento and selected four Active Design tenets for emphasis in Sacramento: 1. Walkable and bikeable streets for connectivity and accessibility; 2. Mixed land uses with walkable destinations; 3. Increasing landscape and urban forest; and 4. Safety. Over a two-year period, the team looked for opportunities to integrate these Active Design tenets into policies and codes.

D4AS found an opportunity to review Sacramento County’s Design Guidelines and identify which existing policies promoted Active Design and health. Identified policies were highlighted with an icon to bring attention to the breadth of guidelines that directly impact healthy communities, even without specifically mentioning the word “health.” At the same time the County was also updating its Housing Element, a primary component of its General Plan that sets forth a plan for meeting upcoming housing needs. D4AS used this opportunity to have Public Health, Safety, and Livability adopted as a core objective for all new housing in the region. The team also helped strengthen the language of Active Design and health-relevant policies in the Housing Element.

Most crucially, for the first time in over 30 years, the County was also updating its Zoning Code, which arguably wields the most influence over the building and planning landscape. D4AS jumped on this opportunity to write new zoning language that codified the work they had done with Housing Element Policies and added new Active Design guidelines. They encouraged like-minded stakeholders across the county to write letters of support to the Board of Supervisors, stating the importance of healthy communities and requesting adoption of the Design Guidelines with the use of the Active Design icon. Ultimately, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors adopted the Zoning Code and Design Guidelines that includes Active Design, on July 22, 2015.

The eclectic D4AS represented a range of perspectives and talents. Members included the County’s public health officer, a county planner, a regional planner, a transportation engineer, the executive director of the non-profit WALKSacramento, a neurosurgeon, and a landscape architect. In January 2014 D4AS moved under the umbrella of WALKSacramento, and has grown to 11 members, bringing even more expertise, diverse talents, and a shared passion for healthy built environments. The organization plans to continue its work across the region and state, continuing to transform the future landscape of California. For more information, please contact Judy Robinson, Sacramento County, Robinsonju@saccounty.net; 916.874.4551.

D4AS Members

Judy Robinson, Principal Planner at Sacramento County
Dr. Olivia Kasirye MD , Public Health Officer at Sacramento County
Teri Duarte, MPH, former Executive Director of WALKSacramento
Adrian Engel, Civil Engineer at Echelon Transportation Group
Monica Hernández, Associate Public Information Coordinator - SACOG
Dr. Mark Horton MD, NLAPH Coach – Health Consultant
Dr. Edie Zusman MD, Neurosurgeon – Medical Director, Sutter Health East Bay Neuroscience Institute, Eden Medical Center
Dr. Sara Jensen Carr, PhD – Professor, Landscape Architecture at Univ of Hawaii
Dr. Charlene Hauser, MD, Family Medicine – Sutter Health
Dr. Glennah Trochet, MD, Public Health Consultant, former Public Health Officer
Dr. Caroline Peck, MD, Chronic Disease Control Chief, Ca Dept of Pubic Health

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Judy Robinson is a Principal Planner and the Sustainability Manager for Sacramento County. She has over 25 years of experience with local government, community planning, and development. She is the Team Leader for “Design 4 Active Sacramento”, which does focused work on using the built environment to improve the public’s health, and was instrumental in the adoption of Healthy Communities policies and zoning codes for Sacramento County. She also is an Executive Committee Member of California’s Health Planning Leadership Committee and the Capital Region Climate Readiness Collaborative.

Sara Jensen Carr is an Assistant Professor at the University of Hawaii Manoa with a joint appointment in the Schools of Architecture and Public Health. Her primary research interests include the connection between landscape and wellness, urban ecology, and the role of data in design. Sara holds an M.Arch. from Tulane University, and an MLA and PhD in Environmental Planning from UC Berkeley. Her work has been exhibited at SF Planning and Urban Research (SPUR) gallery, the National Building Museum in Washington D.C., and the SF Museum of Modern Art. She is a licensed architect and has practiced professionally in New Orleans and the SF Bay Area. She has guest lectured and taught at UC Berkeley and Columbia University. Sara is a member of “Design 4 Active Sacramento”.

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    D4AS reviewed Sacramento County’s Design Guidelines and identified which existing policies promoted Active Design and health.
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    D4AS worked with stakeholders across the county to help the new Design Guidelines become adopted into the County's Zoning Code, which was updated for the first time in over 30 years.