Renewing Investment in Design for More Active, Healthier Lives

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle isn’t easy. It can be even more challenging to go for a walk when your neighborhood doesn’t feel safe, or visit the park if the closest green space is a subway ride away. The environments in which we work, live, and play can have a profound impact on our health and wellbeing.

In 2010, with the help of funding secured by the Fund for Public Health (FPHNYC), the NYC Department of Health, Department of Design and Construction, Department of Transportation, and Department of City Planning jointly published the New York City Active Design Guidelines (ADGs). The original Guidelines were the first of their kind, created for design professionals and policy makers with the goal of designing healthier communities from the ground up. The ADGs emphasized design strategies that increased opportunities for physical activity, including walking and exercise, more accessible green spaces, improved access to fresh food stores, and active transportation such as walking and biking.

The ADGs provided a comprehensive set of design guidelines for the built environment, focused on the promotion of health and grounded in scientific evidence. They have been incorporated into design projects here in NYC and adapted both nationwide and worldwide. Since publication, there has been more research on the importance of the built environment for health, particularly the impact of the built environment on mental and social wellbeing.

Now, nearly ten years later, FPHNYC is again partnering with the Health Department to update the original ADGs with new research and recommendations for addressing additional priorities such as social cohesion and mental health. It is estimated that 20% of the adult working population has some type of mental health issue at any given time, and that three of the top five leading causes of disability in NYC are mental health related. The built environment can have an impact on these and other health outcomes. The updated ADGs, which will likely be published in late 2020, will go beyond just physical activity to address “whole person health,” which includes physical, mental, and social health, and will address the issues facing communities across NYC that still suffer from poor health. Solutions include improving access to green space, involving the community in the design process, and renewed investment in designing public spaces with an eye towards addressing health inequity while improving social cohesion.

Recently, Active Design was included in the OneNYC plan, demonstrating a commitment to these strategies in the Mayor’s vision for NYC. The updated and expanded ADGs (“ADG 2.0”) will offer design solutions to make the healthy choice the easy choice. FPHNYC is actively searching for philanthropic partners to support this essential work.

To learn more about how you can support emerging innovations in public health like the ADG 2.0, please contact Aviva Goldstein at [email protected].