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Open Access Publications from the University of California

School Siting and Walkability: Experience and Policy Implications in California


Active School Commuting (ASC) and K-12 school siting policies and practices have garnered increased attention in recent years from the planning and public health fields. Of central concern is that, too often, new school siting choices contribute to sprawl and inhibit active transportation to school because they are located far from where students live and/or lack surrounding pedestrian-oriented street characteristics. California has made state policy strides in actively promoting healthy communities, which has included an interest in ensuring communities and school sites are more walkable. To inform this policy area, this study measures the walkability around a sample of schools sited and constructed in six high-growth counties in California from 2003-2011. As California looks to implement a Health in All Policies approach into state decision making (Executive Order S-04-10), and weave health, equity, and environmental sustainability into more policies, a better understanding of the relationship between school siting and walkability is needed, particularly considering that the state provides funds to school districts for new school construction projects. Amidst these state health-promoting efforts, there is not clarity on how walkable newly sited schools are. Our research with this study addresses this gap. Our findings show that the proportion of new schools sited in our study period in California that could be considered objectively walkable by American urban standards is small. Thus, it does seem that state policy actions that would increase the number of walkability around schools may be needed to realize broader healthy community objectives. Local inter-agency and inter-jurisdictional collaboration can likely realize co-benefits that lead to healthy, sustainable communities with improved educational opportunities. Clarity in state policies, guidance, and funding priorities would likely improve collaborative local planning for better outcomes in health, education, and sustainability, which, in turn, maximize investments across sectors. We add to these findings a discussion of recent policy efforts to improve school siting outcomes in California such that they are promoting health and walkability.

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