This blog post is part of the Everyday Destinations series, which focuses on increasing physical activity in small and rural communities through everyday destinations. Start your journey here.
Infill development is a planning approach that creates or expands existing local destinations by reactivating underutilized buildings and lots to align with community needs.
Underutilized sites, such as unused parking lots in commercial corridors, vacant homes in residential areas, and vacant commercial spaces in town centers, can create negative impacts such as decreased community vibrancy, reduced perceptions of safety, and gaps in activity between existing destinations.
Infill development can occur on grayfield and brownfield sites. Grayfields refer to outdated developments that no longer serve community needs, such as standalone buildings, vacant shopping strips, large malls, and parking lots. Brownfields are previously developed sites that may be contaminated from previous uses; in such cases, environmental remediation can ensure that infill developments remove potential harmful impacts to people.
Identifying new uses for underutilized land helps fill gaps in the community fabric and offers opportunities to create health, social, economic, and environmental benefits. When implemented strategically, infill development increases access to local destinations, expands economic development opportunities, and ensures that the built environment addresses community needs.
Infill developments can provide a variety of benefits to residents, businesses, and partners. However, communities may want to consider strategies with widespread benefits to a majority of community members, not just a select few.
Infill development may skew towards investment in parcels that provide a greater return on investment, which can exacerbate patterns of underinvestment in areas (Leigh 2000). In other cases, infill development in historically underinvested areas can lead to the displacement of residents with lower incomes, especially if concentrated development results in an increased demand for residential and commercial spaces.
To encourage equitable benefits for current residents and businesses, communities can implement affordable housing programs and policies, workforce development opportunities, and partnerships with local groups to ensure that infill developments benefit residents and local partners. Brownfield redevelopment in particular provides an opportunity to address environmental injustices, increase community assets, and improve conditions that impact the quality of life in historically underserved areas.
Infill Development: Existing destinations, such as this neighborhood center, can implement infill development strategies to expand their services. Source: Baltimore Heritage/flickr.com (Public Domain). Rendering of infill development, St. Francis Neighborhood Center, 2405 Linden Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21217.
Connection to Small and Rural Towns
This planning approach can help small and rural towns create connected destinations, especially by encouraging development in unused or underused spaces that are located within existing developed area.
Infill development can create walkable destinations, expand housing stock, provide opportunities for economic growth, improve air and water quality, and protect existing natural resources by avoiding sprawl.
Communities may adopt development standards that emphasize local characteristics in infill developments, augmenting existing qualities valued by the community while increasing economic opportunity. Infill development can also protect open spaces, such as agricultural uses and recreational space, in small and rural towns.
A well-implemented infill approach can create a more comfortable environment for active transportation by filling in gaps between existing developments, providing opportunities for residents to engage with their surroundings and enjoy more accessible spaces.
This planning approach can be influenced by local real estate market demand for different use types (e.g., residential, commercial). Practitioners should evaluate the availability and need for specific uses, as well as larger patterns that may impact project success, including economic conditions, retail patterns, and housing stock changes (EPA 2015).
Case Example: Boulder, Colorado
In Boulder, Colorado, a nonprofit housing developer, Thistle Communities, and a for-profit developer, Allison Management, partnered to create Yarmouth Way, a market-rate and affordable housing development in the Holiday neighborhood, a site in North Boulder that was previously a drive-in theater.
Yarmouth Way is located on a parcel within a master-planned community that was originally identified for commercial development. When the parcel was not built up by a commercial tenant, the project partners sought financing options to create workforce housing (Urban Land Institute 2013). This new infill development provides 3- and 4-bedroom affordable housing options in a community where increasing housing prices prohibited low-and moderate-income households from living within the city.
Yarmouth Way included 10 permanently affordable workforce units, which were partially subsidized by the sale of market-rate homes, a transfer of in-lieu fees, and financial assistance from NeighborhoodWorks America.
This development includes features that support an active and connected lifestyle, including spaces that encourage pedestrians and bicyclists, and site design components, including minimal building setbacks and porches, that promote a sense of community and complement adjacent community features (Office of Policy Development and Research n.d.).
Strategic Points of Intervention
Practitioners have a variety of options to help their communities advance infill development in their communities. This section provides a non-exhaustive list of strategies that professionals with the ability to influence the built environment can use to improve access to everyday destinations.
Collaboration between these professionals and public health is crucial as public health professionals can support planning approaches and engage partners but may not have the authority to implement some of the strategies identified below.
This blog encourages communication and engagement between public health and planners to discuss approaches that might be applicable in their community. For more information on the role of public health professionals in helping implement these strategies. For more information on other partners that play a role in implementing the growth area identification approach.
The following list of strategies can help professionals from different sectors come together and implement planning approaches that support a mix of accessible everyday destinations. Community engagement is crucial throughout every step of implementing the strategies below.
Planners and public health professionals can collaborate to create equitable engagement to collect and act on community needs. Communities should select strategies based on their context and constraints. The links at the end of actions provide more guidance materials and examples from small and rural towns across the country.
Community Visioning and Goal Setting
- Identify underutilized parcels or developments located close to existing everyday destinations and activity-friendly routes that can be used for infill development (Yuma 2017). This information can be identified through community mapping activities, community meetings, and informal community engagement activities.
- Determine whether underutilized parcels or development currently provide benefits to the community, such as open space for recreation and informal community gatherings. This information can help determine what community needs are not being met but could be addressed through infill development projects.
- Identify infill development goals that align with community priorities, such as increasing affordable housing, maximizing existing infrastructure use, or encouraging economic development.
- Connect infill development with additional community priorities, such as increasing sustainable development practices (Adams n.d.).
- Develop a functional plan for brownfield redevelopment that emphasizes infill development as an opportunity to advance community economic, environmental, and social goals (Orange County 2008, Roanoke 2008).
- Integrate infill development as part of neighborhood plans, connecting development strategies with an assessment of parcels or buildings suitable for redevelopment (Somerville 2016).
- Identify opportunities for adaptive reuse, such as adapting grayfield developments into spaces that support small businesses.
- Specify spatial strategies for implementing infill development, such as adopting widespread municipal goals or designating specific neighborhood areas for infill development projects (Greensboro 2011).
- Determine priorities that align with infill development, such as economic development, health benefits, and improvement in visual characteristics (New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services 2008).
- Identify population growth patterns and projected community needs to create a context-sensitive approach for infill development.
Regulations and Incentives
- Review existing zoning ordinances and other local and state laws to understand regulatory opportunities for grayfield and brownfield redevelopments, such as parking ratios, environmental assessments, site remediation requirements (cleaning up contaminants after an environmental incident), and zoning requirements.
- Identify incentives that encourage developers to invest in new infill developments and support active transportation priorities, including removing requirements that limit development potential, such as parking requirements, expedited development review opportunities, and mixed-use requirements that increase accessibility to commercial spaces (PolicyLink 2001).
- Use density bonuses to encourage infill development.
- Consider development standards that support infill development, such as reduced setback requirements, reducing parking requirements, and increasing transportation network connectivity (New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services 2008).
- Adopt infill development zones to launch projects that revitalize underutilized buildings and lots.
- Adopt requirements for infill development with both general standards and specific development components, such as shared community amenities, that contribute to successful infill development practices (Bellingham 2021).
- Provide site assessment guidance to developers interested in brownfield and grayfield redevelopment.
- Adopt permitting processes that encourage brownfield redevelopment (Local Housing Solution n.d.).
- Share information about benefits of infill development, including existing access to utilities, availability of incentives, and connecting to existing activity hubs. For brownfields, share information about historic site uses that might contribute to potential site contamination, as well as opportunities for remediation.
- Expedite development review processes for infill development projects as an incentive for pursuing infill development.
- Determine partnership opportunities, including public-private partnerships, to conduct environmental remediation of brownfield sites suitable for redevelopment.
- Identify tax incentives or liability protections to encourage infill development (Local Housing Solutions n.d., Partners for Livable Communities n.d.).
- Create partnerships to collaboratively address remediation needs for brownfield sites and create better conditions for redevelopment.
- Identify local, state, and federal grant opportunities for public-private partnerships to create infill development of housing, mixed use, and everyday destinations in underutilized lots and brownfield sites.
- Prioritize capital improvement projects that expand infrastructure and services near potential infill development sites.
- Implement temporary grayfield infill projects with local businesses and nonprofits, such as spaces for outdoor dining, community gardens, and cultural events.
- Explore opportunities for community benefits agreements to mitigate adverse impacts of development on low-income communities (Wolf-Powers 2011).
Communities have active organizations, leaders, and professionals that can contribute to implementing the strategies provided in the previous section.
Built environment and public health professionals should consider, and if applicable, reach out to the following groups to implement infill developments. These groups can also recommend other organizations that may be able to collaborate.
The following nonexhaustive list of partners offers potential starting points — there may be more partners to consider, depending on the community.
- Connect with community members to identify infill development sites that would help meet local needs, provide community benefits, increase access to everyday destinations, and meet additional community goals.
- Support land banks (public or nonprofit organizations that advance community goals by holding, managing, and redeveloping land) and community development corporations that can advance remediation of underutilized lots (Leigh 2000).
- Involve economic development agencies or departments to ensure that grayfield and brownfield redevelopment is connected to broader community revitalization strategies (Local Housing Solutions n.d.).
- Connect with parks and recreation departments to identify opportunities to integrate green spaces within redevelopment projects.
- Partner with private developers to encourage infill development in brownfield sites.
- Collaborate with the public works department and relevant transportation agencies to ensure redevelopment opportunities are connected to public infrastructure.
- Connect with regional or state agencies, such as environmental health and public health partners, to identify opportunities to support redevelopment activities that align with county plans.
- Connect with public works departments to determine lots eligible for utility access.
We are interested in case examples that support physical activity through everyday destinations in communities with a population less than 20,000 people. If you are aware of such communities, please share their stories with us at email@example.com. By directing us to such articles you can help other small and rural communities become more active and healthier.
Read this post and visit the Everyday Destinations project page for background information, additional context, and overarching considerations that support creating great communities for all.
Adams, Tyler. n.d. "Encourage Infill Development." Chapter 3.1 in Sustainable Development Code.
Bellingham (Washington), City of. 2021. Bellingham Municipal Code. Chapter 20.28: Infill Housing.
Bereitschaft, Bradley. 2017. "Equity in Microscale Urban Design and Walkability: A Photographic Survey of Six Pittsburgh Streetscapes." Sustainability 9(7): 1233.
Greensboro (North Carolina), City of. 2011. "Connections, Policies and Action Steps." Downtown Area Consolidated Plan.
Leigh, Nancey Green. 2000. "Promoting More Equitable Brownfield Redevelopment." Land Lines, September.
Local Housing Solutions. n.d. "Brownfields."
New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. 2008. "Infill Development." Section 1.6 in Innovative Land Use Planning Techniques: A Handbook for Sustainable Development.
Office of Policy Development and Research. n.d. "Boulder, Colorado: Infill Workforce Housing." U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Orange County (Florida). 2008. Infill Master Plan.
Partners for Livable Communities. n.d. "Brownfields/Grayfields Tax Credit Program."
PolicyLink. 2001. Equitable Development Toolkit: Infill Incentives.
Roanoke (Virginia), City of. 2008. City-Wide Brownfield Redevelopment Plan.
Somerville (Massachusetts), City of. 2016. The Union Square Neighborhood Plan.
Urban Land Institute. 2013. "Yarmouth Way, Boulder, Colorado." Jack Kemp Workforce Housing Models of Excellence Awards.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2015. How Small Towns and Cities Can Use Local Assets to Rebuild Their Economies: Lessons from Successful Places.
Wolf-Powers, Laura. 2011. "Community Benefits Agreements in a Value Capture Context." In Value Capture and Land Use Policies, edited by Gregory K. Ingram and Yu-Hung Hong. Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.
Yuma (Arizona), City of. 2017. Infill Incentive Plan.
Active People, Healthy Nation
Active People, Healthy NationSM is a national initiative led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help 27 million Americans become more physically active by 2027. Increased physical activity can improve health, quality of life, and reduce health care costs.
Top Image: Ohio Redevelopment Project/flickr.com (CC by 2.0). Wall Street Corridor (BAP) Tiffin, Ohio
About the Authors
Jo Peña is a research associate with APA.
Sagar Shah is a planning and community health manager with APA.