The Built Environment


What is the built environment?

  • All building, spaces, and products that are created or modified by people
  • Our homes, schools, workplaces, parks, business areas
  • Roads, trails, sidewalks, paths
  • The built environment extends overhead in the form of electric transmission lines and underground in the form of waste disposal sites and subway lines and across the county in the form of highways


Features of the built environment are numerous and include:

  • Land use (presence or type of building placed on land, density, designated use)
    • Green space (playgrounds, gardens)
    • Public spaces (meeting places, gathering spots)
    • Amenities (street furniture, outdoor dining areas, public restrooms)
    • Landscaping (trees, lighting)
    • Buildings (height, number, appearance)
    • Safety (lighting, sight lines)
  • Transportation
    • Streets, roads, and highways (design, pattern, traffic calming measures)
    • Sidewalks (location, width, connectivity)
    • Bicycle and walking paths (Active Transportation)


Built Environment Diagram


Bike Lane

As the above diagram shows, the built environment is linked to many health topics.  For more information on how the built environment influences health, check out these resources:



How can you influence the built environment in your community?

Changes to the built environment are made through land use planning.  Municipalities in Ontario are required to plan for development and how the land in the community will be used in the future.  The municipal council and staff, with input from residents, develop an Official Plan that provides a road map for how the space in your community can be used.


The Official Plan deals with issues such as:

  • Where new housing, schools, industry, offices and shops will be located
  • What services like roads, water-mains, sewers, and parks will be located
  • When, and in what order, parts of your community will grow
  • Community improvement initiatives


To learn more about land use planning and official plans, review the Citizen’s Guides produced by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.


In Grey Bruce, both counties are the upper tier municipality that is ultimately responsible for land-use planning.  Grey County and Bruce County each has their own Official Plan. Most lower tier municipalities also have their own official plan.  These plans must comply with the appropriate County Official Plan.


Take some time to review your local official plan.  Think about how the policies impact you, your family, and others in the community. 


Small Town

Developing policies for a healthier built environment

As the link between health and the built environment has become clear, many organizations are calling for changes to land use planning policies that will lead to better health outcomes. Here are some examples:




Collaborative Policy Scan Project

Collaborative Policy Scan Project

In 2009, the Ontario Heart Health Network did a scan of municipal policies available online from across the province.  The scan looked for policies in five areas: access to nutritious foods, access to recreation and physical activity, active transportation and the built environment, prevention of alcohol misuse, and prevention of tobacco use and exposure. 

The results of the provincial scan provided a snap shot of the number and types of policies that exist locally to support healthy living.  While the scan clearly indicates there is a lot of work to be done across Grey and Bruce, there are some policies in place in various municipalities.  These existing policies are good examples to build on in other municipalities.


The policy scan found that in Grey Bruce:

  • Most municipalities have municipal alcohol policies
  • None of the municipalities regulate the density of stores selling alcohol
  • Few municipalities have policies that support healthy food choices in vending machines and concession stands
  • None of the municipalities have policies that support the development of community gardens
  • There are no policies in Grey Bruce that address access to nutritious foods in a comprehensive way (food security)
  • Few municipalities have policies that prohibit tobacco use at outdoor recreation spaces such as playgrounds and sports fields
  • Few municipalities have policies for smoke-free multi-unit dwellings
  • Few official plans have policies that address active transportation and physical activity
  • Few municipalities have parks or recreation master plans
  • Few municipalities have policies that ensure open space in apartment complexes and multi-unit dwellings
  • Neither school board has a policy that encourages the use of active transportation to and from school
  • None of the hospitals have a policy for smoke free grounds


Further Resources and Links


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