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Community development strategies to strengthen communities

Community development strategies can boost neighborhood economic activity, improve the built environment, create better access to transportation, and strengthen neighborhood social ties.

Supportive, vibrant communities strengthen family stability, foster strong social networks, and generate access to opportunity, all of which contribute to positive mobility outcomes at every life stage.

How can community development strategies impact neighborhoods?

Neighborhoods with good access to transportation and short commute times produce stronger economic mobility outcomes. 1

Commuting time is a strong predictor of upward economic mobility. The longer the average commute in a given county, the lower the chances of low-income families experiencing upward economic mobility.

Neighborhoods with strong social bonds produce better health and social outcomes. 2

Parks, libraries, community centers, and other well-designed public spaces can foster stronger neighborhood social networks, also known as social capital. Neighborhoods with stronger social capital are linked to higher levels of physical and mental well-being and lower levels of social isolation.

Access to parks and green spaces improves community health. 3

Residential proximity to neighborhood parks and green spaces is correlated with better physical health, mental health, and general well-being. Individuals have less mental distress, anxiety, depression, and unhealthy cortisol levels when living in areas with access to green space.

The physical condition of neighborhoods affects community-wide outcomes. 4

Neighborhood blight is associated with crime and diminished economic activity and contributes to negative community employment, education, and health outcomes.

Neighborhoods with access to fresh and healthy grocery options see better health outcomes. 5

Neighborhoods without access to fresh and healthy grocery options (food deserts) are associated with poor health outcomes for adults and contribute to higher rates of obesity among preschool-aged children.

Categories of successful interventions

  • Built environment improvements: Investments in physical infrastructure that create healthier, safer, more economically vibrant communities
  • Parks and green space: Initiatives that seek to improve the quality of and access to parks and public spaces
  • Transportation access: Investments, programs, or policies that improve neighborhood access to transportation

Evidence-based interventions

Intervention Type Category Evidence Level
Alcohol outlet density restrictions Policy
  • Community health programs
  • Substance use prevention programs
Proven (highest tier)
Automated speed enforcement cameras Strategy
  • Built environment improvements
Proven (highest tier)
Bike and pedestrian master plans Policy
  • Built environment improvements
Strong (second-highest tier)
Community gardens Strategy
  • Built environment improvements
  • Community health programs
  • Nutrition programs
Strong (second-highest tier)
Community land trusts Strategy
  • Affordable housing creation and preservation
Strong (second-highest tier)
Complete streets and streetscape design initiatives Policy
  • Built environment improvements
Proven (highest tier)
Farmers markets Strategy
  • Community health programs
  • Nutrition programs
Strong (second-highest tier)
Green space and parks Policy
  • Built environment improvements
Strong (second-highest tier)
Housing rehabilitation loan and grant programs Strategy
  • Housing quality programs
Proven (highest tier)
Inclusionary zoning policies Policy
  • Affordable housing creation and preservation
Strong (second-highest tier)
Individual incentives for public transportation Policy
  • Transportation access
Strong (second-highest tier)
Land banking Strategy
  • Affordable housing creation and preservation
  • Built environment improvements
Strong (second-highest tier)
Mixed-use development Policy
  • Built environment improvements
Proven (highest tier)
Places for physical activity Policy
  • Built environment improvements
Proven (highest tier)
Traffic calming Strategy
  • Neighborhood safety strategies
Proven (highest tier)
Zoning regulations for land use policy Policy
  • Affordable housing creation and preservation
  • Built environment improvements
Proven (highest tier)
Footnotes
  1. Chetty and Hendren, "The Impacts of Neighborhoods on Intergenerational Mobility: Childhood Exposure Effects and County-Level Estimates," Equality of Opportunity 2015
    http://www.equality-of-opportunity.org/images/nbhds_exec_summary.pdf
  2. Klinenberg, "Social Isolation, Loneliness, and Living Alone: Identifying the Risks for Public Health," American Journal of Public Health 2016
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4985072/
  3. Sturm and Cohen, "Proximity to Urban Parks and Mental Health," Journal of Mental Health Policy Economics 2014
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4049158/pdf/nihms575433.pdf
  4. Blumenthal and McGinty, "Housing Policy Levers to Promote Economic Mobility," Urban Institute 2015
    https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/alfresco/publication-pdfs/2000428-Housing-Policy-Levers-to-Promote-Economic-Mobility.pdf
  5. Chinni, "The Socio-Economic Significance of Food Deserts," PBS News 2011
    https://www.pbs.org/newshour/arts/the-socio-economic-significance-of-food-deserts