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Land Use Mix

Indicator Description

This indicator measures the average neighborhood-level diversity of destinations across a metropolitan area based on the mix of eight different employment types (office, retail, industrial, service, entertainment, education, health, and public sector) within each block group in the metropolitan area. A block group typically contains 600 to 3,000 people, and although the size of a block group depends upon population density, the average block group in a metropolitan area is less than one square mile in area. Metropolitan areas receive a value between 0 and 1 based on a widely-used measure of the mix of different job types, which are assumed to represent different land uses. Scores closer to 1 indicate that a large number of block groups within a metropolitan area offer convenient access to a wide range of jobs and services. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency developed the EPA Smart Location Database, and this database yielded the land use mix indicator; this database draws from the Census Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics dataset and private data sources to measure diversity.

Related Strategies

Transportation and Health Connection

Various aspects of land use mix have been linked to physical activity and public health. Although results have varied across studies and methodologies, recent reports have fairly consistently found positive associations “between walking for transportation and density, distance to nonresidential destinations, and land use mix” (Saelens, Handy, 2008). One comprehensive meta-analysis concluded that variables such as land use mix, jobs–housing balance, distance to a store, and intersection density are all positively correlated with physical activity (Ewing, Cervero, 2010).

Other studies have found that “residents from communities with higher density, greater connectivity, and more land use mix report higher rates of walking/cycling for utilitarian purposes than low-density, poorly connected, and single land use neighborhoods” even after accounting for socioeconomic and demographic characteristics (Saelens, Sallis, Frank, 2003). These findings on the importance of the built environment have also been supported for specific age groups, including youth and older adults (Davison, Lawson, 2006; Rosso, Auchincloss, Michael, 2011; Saelens, Papadopoulos, 2008).

About the Data

Given the importance of density, connectivity, and access to destinations, the development of appropriate indicators is essential to measuring and understanding the influence of land use mix on health. The employment entropy variable from the EPA Smart Location Database measures the diversity of eight different employment types (office, retail, industrial, service, entertainment, education, health, and public sector) in a block group on a 0 to 1 scale. The variable is available at the block group level, so an MSA level indicator is calculated using a population-weighted average of all block groups located within the MSA. This does not account for factors such as street design, safety (traffic), security (crime), pedestrian-friendly design, topography, and weather.

Moving Forward

Transportation decision makers can use information on land use mix mode to evaluate and explore different ways to change the built environment to yield positive effects on physical activity, air quality, and health. Research will continue to emerge on the topic and could indicate how adapting land use mix best serves for improved health outcomes.

Related Strategies


Davison KK, Lawson CT. Do attributes in the physical environment influence children’s physical activity? A review of the literature. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2006;3:19-36.

Ewing R, Cervero R. “Travel and the Built Environment”, Journal of the American Planning Association 2010;76:3, 265-294.

Rosso AL, Auchincloss AH, Michael YL. The urban built environment and mobility in older adults: A comprehensive review. Journal of Aging Research 2011.

Saelens BE, Handy SL. Built environment correlates of walking: A review. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 2008;40:S550-S566.

Saelens BE, Papadopoulos C. The importance of the built environment in older adults’ physical activity: A review of the literature. Washington State Journal of Public Health Practice 2008;1:13-21.

Saelens BE, Sallis JF, Frank LD. Environmental correlates of walking and cycling: findings from the transportation, urban design, and planning literatures. Annals of Behavioral Medicine 2003;25:80-91. *

* Indicates research that supports policies analyzed

† Indicates research that supports equity or vulnerable populations studied