Making the case for investments in activity-friendly communities

Improved health isn’t the only reason to invest in activity-friendly communities—doing so can also improve safety, social connectedness, air quality, and local economies.1 The National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR) has created a growing collection of resources and research to help public health practitioners, decision makers, and community members make the business case for improving the built environment.


What are activity-friendly communities?

Places connected by routes such as sidewalks and trails to everyday destinations such as grocery stores and parks

Silhouette of person walking

Explore how this can happen in your community

Pedestrians and a citizen in a wheelchair crossing at a crosswalk.

Economic Indicators Library

You can decide which economic indicators to prioritize based on your community’s most pressing local issues and needs, and your community’s vision for the future.

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Easier than you think

There are many great ways to start the conversation around activity-friendly communities. These talking points and questions will help you be ready for issues that may arise when discussing priorities with local decision makers and community members. Click here to download a PDF of the discussion points.

Talking about economic benefits of activity-friendly communities

Start the conversation by asking…

  • How would a more activity-friendly community be good for us and our neighbors?
  • What are some examples of activity-friendly places or infrastructure in our community?
  • What are some untapped opportunities and possibilities for activity-friendly plans or development in our community?
  • What could the future version of our community look like?
  • What areas and who in our community would benefit most from more places to safely walk, bike, run, or roll?
  • Activity-friendly communities create economic opportunities.

  • Economic opportunities help attract employees, customers, and patrons who want to live and work near jobs, businesses, and services that are convenient and easy to access.

  • People in thriving communities live longer and report better health, contributing to lower health care costs and increased productivity for employers.

  • When communities make it easy and convenient to walk, bike, and roll to ample job opportunities, businesses, and services, they create shared economic prosperity, which helps people feel connected and promotes the community’s overall health and economy

Start the conversation by asking…

  • What issues are important to people in the room?
  • What plans and solutions are being considered to address what our community cares about, whether it’s housing, traffic, or economic growth?
  • Have you considered activity-friendly development to address these priorities?
  • What different fields, sectors, or groups in the community are involved?

Improving the built environment is not a one size fits all approach. What is important for your community may not be the same for another.

  • Activity-friendly development solves problems and addresses needs in almost every sector: transportation, land use and planning, zoning, housing and real estate development, and business.

  • Activity-friendly communities can address community transportation and housing priorities by reducing congestion, adapting to changing travel needs, or increasing housing without increasing traffic congestion or sprawl.

  • Policies and investments that support a range of housing options, including smaller and multifamily homes, can help increase affordability and walkability.

  • For communities focused on economic issues, activity-friendly places can boost business and tourism to bring in needed tax revenue.

Start the conversation by asking…

  • What types of projects are tax dollars currently being spent on?
  • Where are the transportation safety problems in your community, and how do you think you can use federal dollars to address them?
  • How are decision makers taking advantage of the expanded opportunities in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law?
  • The increased productivity, opportunity, and stability resulting from activity-friendly investments can lead to greater revenue from taxes, sales, and business to support community needs, infrastructure, and initiatives.

  • This incremental, sustainable development can increase property values while retaining existing residents and businesses. These opportunities for economic recovery can benefit the whole community.

  • Need more funding? There are more resources available than ever for projects to support activity-friendly communities, including the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

  • Federal transportation dollars can be spent on much more than just roads and pavement. They can be used to improve safety, which means more funds for activity-friendly places.
  • Many funding streams are dedicated to activity-friendly projects, and many others are eligible for activity-friendly projects.

Start the conversation by asking…

  • What traffic safety or congestion projects are we postponing right now due to cost?
  • Where could we avoid having to build more roads by finding a better and cheaper solution?
  • Are there alternatives to increasing vehicle traffic that bring other benefits like lower costs and better quality of life?
  • Routine maintenance such as repaving roads and repairing bridges can provide a lower-cost opportunity to ease the flow of vehicles so walking, biking, and rolling are safer and more pleasant.

  • Sidewalks, bike lanes, and trails cost less to build and maintain in comparison to roads for vehicles. For example, bike lanes can go in existing road shoulders, parking lanes, or narrowed traffic lanes.

  • Communities often tap into non-traditional options to fund infrastructure projects: local option sales taxes, fuel taxes, utility fees, and motor vehicle fees; state infrastructure banks; and public-private partnerships.

Healthy communities are desirable communities

  • Healthy development means different things for different people: In some places, a trail network or a bus route connecting to nearby towns may be enough to help local businesses thrive. In other places, a different balance may be needed, like preserving open spaces and natural resources. Local governments have many tools to include resident voices in community development decisions and provide incentives for smart growth.

  • Include community residents in development solutions and decision-making: Community-based planning and engagement can help ensure that changes address community goals and avoid unintended consequences. For example, policies that help existing businesses keep jobs in the community and help retail prices remain affordable can ensure that current residents and businesses aren’t priced out and communities remain stable.

  • Find the right approach for your community: It’s critical to weigh the pros and cons of different policy tools and strategies in your context to support current residents and businesses through healthy development.

Know before you go

Economic Indicators Library

Be aware of displacement concerns.

Activity-friendly improvement projects can generate concerns about residential, commercial, or cultural displacement. In a recent national study, nearly 1 in 5 respondents expressed concerns that community design changes might increase cost of living. However, over half of the respondents still supported design changes even if they did increase costs.2 Economic indicators can be used to measure the benefits of community design changes, which can offset the increased costs of living. Consider how concerns about displacement might prevent residents from supporting community improvements. Many strategies exist to mitigate or prevent displacing people when designing communities for physical activity. Resources identified by recent research can help you identify municipalities that have used strategies to protect people, jobs, and ways of life, and ensure that projects benefited the entire community.3

Has your community made strides toward becoming an activity-friendly place?

Let us know! We’d love to share your story and the benefits you were able to achieve.



Read the Research

In 2020, NCCOR convened a panel of experts who identified 73 potential measurable economic benefits that can be used to make the business case for activity-friendly communities. Resources on this website highlight the top 10. For a complete list of indicators and description of how they were identified see Priorities and Indicators for Economic Evaluation of Built Environment Interventions to Promote Physical Activity, published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 2021.

In 2022, NCCOR published a Systematic Review on Quantifying Pedestrian Injury When Evaluating Changes to the Built Environment in Preventive Medicine Reports.

Young girl and young boy with helmets riding bikes across a cross-walk.

Additional Resources

Active People, Healthy Nation℠

Active People, Healthy Nation is a national initiative led by CDC to help 27 million Americans become more physically active by 2027.

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Smart Growth

Smart Growth covers a range of development and conservation strategies that help protect our health and natural environment and make our communities attractive, economically stronger, and more socially diverse.

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NCCOR Catalogue of Surveillance Systems

Need help finding publicly available data sources? NCCOR’s Catalogue of Surveillance Systems provides one-stop access to over 100 publicly available datasets relevant to childhood obesity research. The Catalogue includes physical activity- and environment-related databases you can use.

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NCCOR Measures Registry Resource Suite

Working on your own research study? NCCOR’s Measures Registry Resource Suite can help you select measures related to the physical activity environment.

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  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Step It Up! The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities. Washington, DC: U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General; 2015
  2. Dsouza N, Serrano N, Watson KB, McMahon J, Devlin HM, Lemon SC, et al. Exploring Residents’ Perceptions of Neighborhood Development and Revitalization for Active Living Opportunities. Prev Chronic Dis 2022;19:220033.
  3. Serrano, N., Realmuto, L., Graff, K.A. et al. Healthy Community Design, Anti-displacement, and Equity Strategies in the USA: A Scoping Review. J Urban Health 2022.
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