A Work in Progress:
The Active, Healthy Metropolis


Active design is aligned with a sustainable city model as the strategies that promote activity also offer environmental benefits.

The public and private entities charged with shaping the built environment are now embarking on new ways to promote physical activity through “active design.” Urban planners are working to create engaging streetscapes, pedestrian-oriented mixed-use developments and neighborhoods with parks that invite indoor and outdoor activity. While no one strategy will bring about healthier lifestyles, research suggests that active design measures, implemented over a broad range of urban environmental and architectural projects, can benefit those who live in our cities.

At the scale of the community, active design encourages walking, bicycling, transit use, active recreation and taking advantage of access to healthy foods (e.g., attending farmers’ markets and participating in urban gardens). Each and all of these elements contribute to a more livable city and a healthier populace. Why does active design matter? In the 21st century, the biggest public health epidemics are not infectious diseases, but rather obesity and related chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. Today, physical inactivity and unhealthy diets are second only to tobacco as the leading cause of premature death. Urban planning strategies that champion physical activity can improve physical and health and the sense of well-being that goes along with living in safe, walkable neighborhoods with access to a variety of urban amenities.

According to a study undertaken by multiple New York City departments in partnership with architectural and planning academics and the AIA, key measures include planning city neighborhoods for density and mixed land use and providing access to:

• Transit and transit facilities
• Plazas, parks, open spaces and recreational facilities, and design these features to maximize active use
• Full-service grocery stores and fresh produce
• Pedestrian-friendly streets with high connectivity, landscaping, lighting, benches and water fountains
• Continuous bicycle networks and infrastructure like safe bicycle parking

Active design is aligned with a sustainable city model as the strategies that promote activity also offer environmental benefits. Mixing uses and increasing population density help to promote walking and using mass transit—which helps to reduce our use of fuels and the release of pollutants. Parks and open green spaces improve air quality, as well as quality of life. Ultimately, cities designed to enhance the experience of their inhabitants, also bring economic and environmental benefits to the community.


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For more information about Active Design Guidelines, visit http://www.nyc.gov/html/ddc/html/design/active_design.shtml.

Active Design Guidelines was developed by a partnership of the New York City departments of Design and Construction, Health and Mental Hygiene, Transportation, City Planning, and Office of Management and Budget, working with leading architectural and planning academics, and with help from the American Institute of Architects New York Chapter.