Plan4Health Success Story: Building Wellness in Bensenville, Illinois

Plan4Health connects communities across the country, funding work at the intersection of planning and public health. Anchored by the American Planning Association (APA) and the American Public Health Association (APHA), Plan4Health supports creative partnerships to build sustainable, cross-sector coalitions.

Through Plan4Health, B-Well Bensenville addressed physical inactivity, with a focus on the needs of low-income and Hispanic residents — Bensenville's most vulnerable populations. Efforts included short-term solutions, like raising awareness about new physical activity opportunities within the community, and longer-term policy and environmental changes to improve physical activity rates among residents.

The Village of Bensenville, Illinois, a Chicago suburb of 18,500 residents located in the northeast corner of DuPage County, has a large percentage of residents at risk for negative health outcomes.

As a whole, the community is not reaching the recommended levels of physical activity. Only 22 percent of 10th graders report being active for 60 minutes a day, and 19 percent of adults aged 20 or older self-report no leisure time activity — like running or gardening or walking for exercise — during the month preceding the survey. Hospital discharge rates for Type 2 diabetes indicate rates that are 15 percent higher for residents of Bensenville than the county as a whole.

B-Well Bensenville is leading the county by linking public health issues and planning and development efforts. During the Plan4Health project period, the coalition created an Active Transportation Plan and a Complete Streets Policy to ensure that all residents can safely bike and walk to school and work.

An initial step in this effort was a community-wide survey designed to determine specific policy recommendations and to prioritize community changes by assessing how residents travel to grocery stores, libraries, work, and trails, as well as how they would like to travel to these destinations. The coalition's early emphasis on community engagement was key for the successful development and implementation of the plans.

B-Well Bensenville Coalition members gather feedback about transportation and walkability at the B-Well Walk-a-thon and Family Fest. Photo by Elizabeth Hartig

The Active Transportation Plan and Complete Streets Policy are strategies that will move the community toward making all streets safe and accessible for current and future residents. The continuing integration of planning and public health in Bensenville serves as an example for other communities of how to change environments to make healthy living easier where people live, learn, work and play.

"The Bensenville Active Transportation Plan and Complete Streets Ordinance provide a forward-thinking approach to make real change in support of a healthy, livable community. Over 300 residents participated in the planning process by identifying barriers to walking and biking. These recommendations were incorporated into the plan and policy, and thereby will help the Village focus transportation investments on the places that matter most. As Bensenville implements its plan and policy, it will empower residents to lead a healthier lifestyle, and enable them to access local and regional destinations on foot or by bike."
Heather Schady, Active Transportation Alliance

The Active Transportation Plan and Complete Streets Policy established through the Plan4Health work in Bensenville potentially impacts the entire village of more than 18,000 people. The coalition currently is focused on implementing these efforts and is already using the new policies: When the coalition found out about the Village's plans to resurface streets, B-Well Bensenville was able to leverage their work to ensure that a new downtown shared bike lane was incorporated into the plans.

Another piece of B-Well Bensenville's efforts involved a regional perspective, including the potential to connect Bensenville with neighboring Elmhurst by the construction of a multi-use path. Although construction is not yet under way, this is one example of how the coalition took a long-term approach. By developing plans early, the coalition will be ready when an opportunity for new construction arises.

Check-out the coalition's video series about active transportation and Complete Streets, available in both English and Spanish:

This success story was developed in partnership with B-Well Bensenville's leadership team.

Top image: Redmond Park, Bensenville, Illinois. Photo by Elizabeth Hartig.

About the Author
Elizabeth Hartig is project associate for APA's Planning and Community Health Center.

August 9, 2017

By Elizabeth Hartig