Background: Assessing neighborhood vitality is important to understanding how to improve quality of life and health outcomes. The ecocity model recognizes that cities are part of natural systems and favors walkable neighborhoods. This article introduces ecocity mapping, an innovative planning method, to the public health literature on community engagement by describing a pilot project with a new affordable housing development in Oakland, California between 2007 and 2009. Although ecocity mapping began as a paper technology, advances in geographic information systems (GIS) moved it forward.
Objectives: This article describes how Ecocity Builders used GIS to conduct ecocity mapping to (1) assess vitality of neighborhoods and urban centers to prioritize community health intervention pilot sites and (2) create scenario maps for use in community health planning.
Methods: From fall 2007 to summer 2008, Ecocity Builders assessed neighborhood vitality using walking distance from parks, schools, rapid transit stops, grocery stores, and retail outlets. In 2008, ecocity maps were shared with residents to create a neighborhood health and sustainability plan. In 2009, Ecocity Builders developed scenario maps to show how changes to the built environment would improve air quality by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, while increasing access to basic services and natural amenities.
Conclusions: Community organizing with GIS was more useful than GIS alone for final site selection. GIS was useful in mapping scenarios after residents shared local neighborhood knowledge and ideas for change. Residents were interested in long-term environmental planning, provided they could meet immediate needs.