Plan4Health Initiative – Planning for Health in Rural Oregon – The Umatilla County Plan4Health Experience

by Tamra Mabbott

This article is the second in a two-part series about the Umatilla County Plan4Health Initiative.  The first article described the grant process and summarized the work of the Plan4Health Coalition.  This article is intended to provide more tangible examples of incorporating the health framework into planning.

In some regard, Plan4Health is really just a new way to look at planning.  The national Plan4Health Initiative was intended to enhance work at the intersection of public health and planning to create a healthy environment for all residents.  Thinking about health when developing land use plans will ideally result in livable, vibrant communities where people live, work and play.  It is a paradigm to champion a thriving and healthy community – physically, socially, and economically.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Cohort II grants required recipients to focus around one or both objectives—to increase access to physical activity and to healthy food. Given the rural setting, one could easily conclude that residents in the county have plenty of access to physical activity and an abundant supply of healthy food.   There are, after all, plenty of wide open spaces and Umatilla County is the number one producer of consumable agricultural products grown in the state of Oregon.   However, public health metrics showed otherwise, with 72% of residents overweight and/or obese. Although many factors contribute to obesity, the Initiative focused on increasing access to healthy foods and opportunities for exercise.

The analysis part of the Plan4Healh Initiative required both an assessment of current conditions and an inventory or possibilities.  Umatilla County used some of the CDC grant funding to hire the University of Oregon Community Service Center (CSC) to develop a Community Needs & Readiness Assessment (CNRA), which includes many conceptual and policy recommendations as well as specific concepts to incorporate health into comprehensive and transportation planning.

Of interest to planners, or so this author thinks, are specific examples of planning projects that enhance health and wellness.  One obvious example is to designate bike routes through cities using a combination of signage and wayfinding.   Another example is to zone properties so as to encourage access to markets within walking distance of neighborhoods.  The CSC work included a survey of health topics of interest to county residents.  The most popular topic was recreation, followed by public safety, clean water, active transportation, clean air, and so on.  As a result, Umatilla County Planning is currently undergoing an update to the Recreation Element of its Comprehensive Plan.

Other specific examples include model language on complete streets and safe routes to schools, establishing land use protections for farmer’s markets, promoting accessibility, supporting physical activity, and safety through code language.  Umatilla County Public Health is currently working to enhance accessibility for wheelchairs by installing charging stations inside city limits.  The full list of land use implementation concepts can be found in Appendix D of the CNRA.

A health focus can be part of long range planning as well.  Immediately on the coattails of the county Plan4Health Initiative, the city of Umatilla invited a group of graduate students from Portland State University to develop a Vision and Framework Plan for the city.  The process and final documents incorporated policies and values of the Plan4Health Initiative.  Both documents are available on the county website:  The map below is an example from the Framework Plan, where the student authors incorporated parks, connectivity, access, orientation to the Columbia and Umatilla Rivers, and sustainable riparian practices into the city’s long range plan.  The PSU project utilized another key principle of Plan4Health by taking a deliberate approach to be inclusive of all age and ethnic groups, developing outreach for both English and Spanish speaking residents.  The process also included focused involvement of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) for input into redevelopment design concepts for the Old Town Site where ancient Native American artifacts remain.

Map: City of Umatilla downtown waterfront and park corridor is envisioned to connect green spaces, outdoor activities, and walkability with commercial and residential neighborhoods. Source: Umatilla Together Vision, June 2017.

Another example of incorporating public health into a comprehensive plan is to adopt a standalone public health element.  Several jurisdictions in Oregon have such a plan, including Klamath Falls, South Bend, Wilsonville, Portland, Gresham, and Beaverton.  Additionally, the CTUIR located in Umatilla County has a standalone Health and Human Services element incorporated into their comprehensive plan.

Planners interested in learning more about improving health through planning can also review the Oregon Planners4Health Assessment soon to be published by the Oregon Chapter of the American Planning Association.  The report is expected to be posted on the OAPA website in August 2017.


Tamra Mabbott is the Community Development Director for the City of Umatilla, and was formerly Planning Director for Umatilla County.

Visit the Umatilla County Plan4Health web site here:

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