What does this indicator measure?
This indicator measures the number of retail, entertainment, and education jobs per acre.76
The connection to health
Everybody should have access to jobs, schools, shops and other essential goods and services which can impact one's health and quality of life. Living in a community with a mix of uses and destinations can improve health by reducing household costs, encouraging physical activity, reducing chronic diseases, improving mental health, fostering community connections and supporting community resilience to climate change and pollution. Retail density is a proxy for neighborhoods with a mix of uses and destinations, indicating areas with economic opportunities and transportation options. Living in a neighborhood with more options for work, education and shopping presents opportunities for people to reduce their regular travel. They may be able to walk, bike and take public transportation more, encouraging physical activity and reducing the need and cost of driving.77, 78 This is especially important for low-income households without access to a car and rely on walking, biking and transit to get around. Studies have found that more walkable areas can be predictors of longevity.79 Retail density can also indicate greater social cohesion and mental health, as people may be more socially connected and supportive of each other in neighborhoods that are more walkable and full of jobs, schools, shops and other destinations. In neighborhoods with lower retail densities and less options, people may need to travel to other communities to fulfill their daily needs, increasing the time they spend away from their families and transportation costs. Improving retail density by encouraging a greater mix of land uses within a community has potential to help make it a healthier place. It should be noted, however, that the quality of retail providers matters, as not all retail providers offer services or goods that promote and support health. For instance, fast food restaurants, convenience stores, and stores that sell tobacco and alcohol can actually worsen health outcomes if they are found in high concentrations in a neighborhood, and there are few healthy food options available. While retail density overall has the potential to promote greater health, the quality and concentration of outlets selling less healthy food and beverages can adversely affect health. For more on this, please see the Alcohol Availability policy guide.
Where to start?
Improving retail density requires a range of strategies to assess the existing neighborhood amenities, determine the market feasibility for new uses, plan for equitable access, and make the neighborhood a safe, active and healthy place to live, work, learn and play. Jurisdictions seeking to improve their retail density should first Plan for Smart Growth. Planning efforts should typically start with an assessment of current land uses, centers of activity, retail centers, job centers, community needs, health conditions and gaps. In addition to the retail density indicator in the Healthy Places Index, planners should also consult other neighborhood, transportation, and economic indicators that are highly related measures, such as Active Commuting and Supermarket Access. A variety of resources on smart growth and retail density are available, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Smart Location Database, Smart Growth America's website, the U.S. Green Building Council Development Density Guidelines, and the Urban Land Institute's Ten Principles for Rebuilding Neighborhood Retail. Jurisdictions should be aware, however, that not all retail providers offer services or goods that promote and support health. For instance, fast food restaurants, convenience stores, and stores that sell tobacco and alcohol can actually worsen health outcomes if they are found in high concentrations in a neighborhood, and there are few healthy food options available. Jurisdictions should make efforts to avoid concentrations of these retail outlets. For more on this see Alcohol Availability.
In addition to land use planning, communities should also Improve Transportation Access to Support Increased Retail Density. Because neighborhoods with higher retail density tend to have more destinations located near each other, there will be higher rates of people walking, bicycling and taking public transportation, as well as using shared mobility services. Communities should create opportunities for new businesses, retail and other essential destinations to be sited locally, and accommodate a range of transportation options.
Communities should also focus on economic development, especially Developing Community Economic Capacity for small businesses, job training providers, and other employment and workforce services. They can use community land trusts and other land preservation strategies to ensure that the neighborhood's mix of destinations is culturally and economically appropriate to community residents.
Improving retail density is complex and can be expensive, but there are several funding sources available to California jurisdictions and park districts. The Strategic Growth Council's grant programs including the Affordable Housing Sustainable Communities and Transformative Climate Communities programs are focused on equitable smart growth, while the California Natural Resources Agency's Urban Greening grant program can be a source for infrastructure improvements. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also has several smart growth grant programs and Smart Growth America maintains a resources page with links to various funding sources and case studies. For information on transportation funding, please review the Automobile Access and Active Commuting policy guides. For economic development, the resources in the Develop Community Economic Capacity section above includes potential funding sources.