New Jersey Leaders Get a Lesson in Activity-Friendly Community Design
New Jersey mayors play a key role in decisions regarding land use planning and design in their communities; yet, many lack good information about the connection between community design and public health.
During 2003 and 2004, the New Jersey office of the Regional Plan Association held three community design institutes for New Jersey mayors and a one-day Healthy Communities and Healthy Schools conference for mayors and others involved with the schools.
The events focused on creating environments where children and adults can easily walk, bike or be physically active. The association also provided follow-up technical assistance for pilot projects to improve bicycle and pedestrian environments in two communities.
- Resource teams of experts, working with the mayors at the institutes, identified six strategies for addressing community design challenges. See Results for the strategies.
- Design teams, working on the two pilot projects, made detailed recommendations to each community on improving pedestrian and bicycle access and reducing traffic speed and volume.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) partially funded this solicited project from 2002 to 2004 with a total of $125,000 in two grants to the association.
More than half of New Jersey residents do not engage in enough physical activity to benefit from its important effects on health, according to a report by the U.S. Surgeon General. One reason for residents' sedentary lifestyles is the automobile-dependent design of many New Jersey communities.
Newer suburban communities isolate housing from destinations such as work, schools and stores, forcing residents to drive to these destinations. Older communities may lack safe or attractive environments in which to walk, bike or play, as well as convenient pedestrian connections to regular destinations (such as stores, restaurants or commuter trains and buses).
New Jersey mayors play a key role in decisions regarding land use design and planning in their communities. Yet, many lack good information about the connection between community design and public health.
Such information would help inform mayors' discussions with real estate developers, local and state transportation officials, and others involved in community design and thereby help mayors maintain or create environments where residents can be physically active.
The Regional Plan Association is an independent organization working to improve the quality of life and economic competitiveness of a 31-county region comprising New York City and its suburbs in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
The New Jersey office of the association, located in New Brunswick, N.J., has sponsored periodic conferences for mayors of New Jersey municipalities, known as the New Jersey Mayors' Institute on Community Design, since 2001. These institutes aim to help mayors develop ways to improve community design and planning in their communities.
RWJF has been supporting ways to increase physical activity through community design and redesign and to build a stronger knowledge base from which to promote active living. RWJF has four active living programs focused on community design:
- Active Living Research program stimulates and supports research to identify environmental factors and policies that influence physical activity (for more information see Grant Results). Findings are expected to inform environmental and policy changes that will promote active living among Americans.
- Active Living by Design incorporates activity-promoting goals and processes into ongoing community planning efforts and supports the development and testing of local community active living projects, with special efforts to reach low-income Americans.
- Active Living Leadership is working to increase the number of state and local elected and appointed leaders who understand and champion community design to promote active living.
- Active Living Resource Center is a program to improve health by encouraging collaboration among planning, health and nontraditional entities for the purpose of designing activity-friendly communities (for more information see Grant Results).
RWJF has also created the Active Living Network, a national coalition of opinion leaders, and advocacy and professional organizations with the ability to shape social, policy and physical environments. Its purpose is to integrate physical activity and access to healthy foods into daily routines. RWJF started funding the network in 2002. (RWJF grant ID#s 040248, 044921, 046502, 048287, 049658, and 055230.)
RWJF has also supported many smaller projects focused on increasing active living at the community level. It issued a Grant Results special report Lessons Learned: Promoting Physical Activity at the Community Level. This report covers 25 physical activity projects in communities across the country.
This grant to the Regional Plan Association relates to that work. Since these programs and projects were funded, the focus of RWJF's new grants addressing physical activity has been obesity in children and families in low-income and minority populations.
The Regional Plan Association convened New Jersey Mayors' Institute on Community Design at Princeton University in Princeton, N.J., on January 2931 and June 810, 2003, and June 2325, 2004. Six different mayors attended each of the three institutes. See Appendix 1 for a list of mayors attending.
At the institutes, each mayor presented a case study of a local community design challenge. Prior to each institute, association staff visited each community, met with the mayor and other officials, reviewed the proposed case study and photographed the site. Examples of case studies include:
- How to transform an abandoned high school stadium into a multi-use community facility, integrate it into a planned greenway along a river, and create bike and pedestrian connections to surrounding neighborhoods. (Paterson, January 2003 institute)
- How to substitute a walkable, mixed-use development for a large parking lot spread out around a train station and create more bicycle and pedestrian links between the station and surrounding neighborhoods. (Metuchen and Collingswood Boroughs, January 2003 institute)
- How to link an existing senior housing complex with new development around an improved intersection so that seniors could walk to shopping and other services. (River Vale Township, June 2003 institute)
During the meetings, the mayors discussed their case studies with a resource team of community design and planning professionals who made recommendations about how to resolve the mayors' community design needs. Resource team members included:
- The director of transportation systems planning from the N.J. Department of Transportation.
- A professor of city and regional planning from the University of Pennsylvania.
- Faculty from the Voorhees Transportation Institute at Rutgers University.
- Experts in landscape design.
- A public health physician from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Discussions focused on the relationship between community design and public health and on how better design and development can create healthy communities.
Project staff conducted two pilot projects drawn from the mayors' case studies, one in Princeton Township and one in River Vale Township. Both projects sought to enhance pedestrian and bicycle access to a particular area of the municipality.
A design team comprising representatives of the Regional Plan Association, the New Jersey Department of Consumer Affairs' Office of Smart Growth, the New Jersey Department of Transportation and local officials, merchants, and residents conducted field visits at each site that included a site tour; review of local data; sessions on pedestrian and bicycle access, traffic speed and volume reduction and community design; and the development of recommendations.
Each of the RWJF grants (ID#s 046252 and 048833) were to support two institutes. The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, which had provided additional funding for the first three institutes, was unable to provide funds for the planned fourth institute.
Instead, Regional Plan Association staff convened a one-day Healthy Communities and Healthy Schools Conference on October 14, 2004 at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, in Princeton, N.J.
Some 70 people attended, including approximately a dozen mayors and a dozen school superintendents and principals, along with local planning board officials from a variety of communities including Brick, Millville and Montgomery Townships, and the city of Paterson. Community design and planning experts participated as well.
The agenda consisted of three presentations, one panel discussion and four workshops. Topics addressed included the following:
- Creating school facilities that are integrated into community life.
- Selecting school sites.
- Long-range planning for schools and communities.
- A case study for the location of a new regional high school in Millville, N.J.
The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs' Office of Smart Growth provided $75,000 in funding for the three Mayors' Institutes. Six other organizations provided a total of $28,300 in additional funding. See Appendix 2 for list of other funders.
The Regional Plan Association reported the following accomplishments:
- From the case studies presented by the mayors at the institutes, the resource teams identified six strategies for mayors that not only addressed the array of challenges they presented but also created environments where people could more easily be physically active. The strategies are:
- Make connections. Create streets that connect with destinations rather than dead ends. Add sidewalks, bike paths and greenways. Devise multiple uses for important facilities, such as schools, so that different constituencies can use the facilities at different times of day.
- Create mixed-use centers. Create new development to include a mix of uses such as housing, shopping, schools, services and recreation, so that people can reach daily destinations by walking or biking.
- Promote transit opportunities to reduce dependence on automobiles: Promote development around transit stops.
- Build complete neighborhoods. Add or connect missing elements to existing single-purpose development. For example, add retail space to an office or apartment complex.
- Meet design challenges in rural communities experiencing rapid suburban growth. Plan development around, and create, walking and biking connections to such rural focal points as a traditional village center or smaller-scale commercial centers.
- Link healthy community design to rehabilitation/infill. Link key destinations for example, a high school and a river by developing land between them with affordable housing or other elements of community renewal.
- The Princeton Township pilot project design team made recommendations to enhance pedestrian and bicycle access inside the Princeton Shopping Center and between the shopping center and surrounding neighborhoods. Examples of the 29 recommendations included actions to:
- Improve pedestrian access such as constructing new cross walks and sidewalks.
- Improve bicycle access by constructing bike lanes, relocating a service station and adding street signage.
- Reduce traffic speed and volume by narrowing a street and constructing a traffic circle.
- The River Vale Township pilot project design team made 33 recommendations to improve the "Four Corners" intersection in River Vale. The recommendations offered ways to:
- Reduce traffic speed and volume (such as reducing lane widths and speed limits).
- Provide new bicycle and pedestrian facilities (such as bike lanes and pedestrian push buttons at traffic signals).
- Improve design (such as providing green buffers between sidewalk and roadway, increasing activity with a farmers market, and varying heights of trees and shrubs).
- Regional Plan Association staff produced two summary reports on the project. Both reports are available on the association's Web site. See the Bibliography for details.
- Mayors Create Healthy Communities summarizes the 12 community design case studies and recommendations emerging from the discussions during the two institutes conducted in 2003. The report also covers findings and recommendations from the Princeton and River Vale pilot projects.
- Growing Smart and Healthy Designing Healthy Schools and Communities: Making It Happen in New Jersey covers the 2004 institute and conference. It describes the six case studies from the institute and summarizes the proceedings of the conference for mayors and school officials. It also includes a case study from the conference that considers possible sites for a regional high school.
- The project director wrote three articles on the institutes that appeared in the journal New Jersey Municipalities. He also made a presentation at the 2002 conference of the New Jersey Chapter of the American Planning Association, during which the association received the "Outstanding Public Education Award" for the institutes. See the Bibliography for details.
- Give mayors the opportunity to exchange ideas with their peers and focus creatively on the community design challenges facing them by providing an environment away from the daily stresses of their jobs. (Project Director)
AFTER THE GRANT
Bergen County, N.J., allocated more than $500,000 for River Vale Township's road and sidewalk improvements recommended in the pilot project, with construction beginning summer 2005.
As of October 2005, other communities, including Eatontown and Montgomery Townships, had received additional funding from the New Jersey Department of Consumer Affairs' Office of Smart Growth to continue their work with the Regional Plan Association to implement plans developed during the institute.
The association conducted Mayors' Institutes in June and October 2005.
GRANT DETAILS & CONTACT INFORMATION
New Jersey Mayors' Institute on Community Design Conferences
Regional Plan Association (New York, NY)
Dates: October 2002 to May 2004
Dates: November 2003 to October 2004
Thomas G. D'Allessio, A.I.C.P., P.P.
List of Mayors Attending Mayors' Institute on Community Design
January 2003 Institute
M. James Maley Jr.
Ann Y. McNamara
Tinton Falls Borough
June 2003 Institute
Peter A. Buchsbaum
West Amwell Township
Frank DeLucca, Jr.
Phyllis L. Marchand
River Vale Borough
Preston M. Taylor, Jr.
Rudolph J. Wenzel, Jr.
June 2004 Institute
Mount Holly Township
New Milford Borough
Eugene F. Feyl
Brian G. Gallagher
Borough of Somerville
Bernadette P. McPherson
Borough of Rutherford
Gerald J. Tarantolo
Borough of Eatontown
Other Funders and Partners
- New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (Office of Smart Growth)
- New Jersey League of Municipalities
- Mayors' Institute Partnership: National Endowment for the Arts, U.S. Conference of Mayors and American Architectural Foundation
- American Planning Association New Jersey Chapter
- Princeton University
(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)
D'Allessio T. "Designing Mayors." New Jersey Municipalities, 79(5): 2426, 2002.
D'Allessio T. "Smart Growth and Healthier Living Through Better Design." New Jersey Municipalities, 80(4): 5658, 2003.
D'Allessio T. "Mayors Make Designs on Their Futures." New Jersey Municipalities, 80(9): 1822, 2003.
Mayors Create Healthy Communities. New Brunswick, N.J.: Regional Plan Association, June 2004. Also available online.
Growing Smart and Healthy Designing Healthy Schools and Communities: Making It Happen in New Jersey. New Brunswick, N.J.: Regional Plan Association, November 2004. Also available online.
World Wide Web Sites
www.rpa.org Within the Regional Plan Association Web site under Community Design or New Jersey Office is a section on the New Jersey Mayors' Institute. The section includes reports, pictures, event announcements and other information.
Report prepared by: Janet Heroux
Reviewed by: Mary B. Geisz
Reviewed by: Molly McKaughan
Program Officer: Katherine M. Kraft