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Architects Fight Obesity Epidemic Through Active Design

By Paula Melton

This article originally appeared on BuildingGreen.com.

February 07, 2012
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Better design choices in homes, workplaces, and communities can increase access to healthier food and provide built-in opportunities for physical activity, fighting the nation’s childhood obesity epidemic. That’s the premise of the burgeoning “active design” movement focusing on elements like playgrounds, walking trails, gardens, and prominent and attractive stairways.

The Via Verde mixed-income housing complex in the South Bronx is piloting New York City's Active Design Guidelines. The exterior features stairways leading to landscaped rooftops and terraces that will serve as community gardens.
Image courtesy Phipps House, Jonathan Rose Companies, Dattner Architects, Grimshaw Architects
The Via Verde mixed-income housing complex in the South Bronx is piloting New York City's Active Design Guidelines. The exterior features stairways leading to landscaped rooftops and terraces that will serve as community gardens.
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The Active Design Guidelines developed by New York City collect many of these design strategies—for cities, neighborhoods, and individual buildings—into a free reference guide. Baani Singh, Assoc. AIA, who is healthy LEED and green development coordinator at New York’s Center for Active Design, points to alarming rates of obesity: 40 percent of children and 60 percent of adults in New York are overweight or obese. Singh claims that since the City started focusing on healthy food and physical activity, her office has seen a reversal in childhood obesity trends. “All of this awareness is actually helping,” she says.

Active design features include some already-familiar sustainable design strategies, such as facilities for cyclists and access to public transit, as well as several emerging strategies not yet deeply encoded in sustainable design:

• Appealing, visible, well-lit stairways and less-prominent elevators and escalators

• Building programs, circulation systems, and interior designs that encourage frequent walking

• Convenient and inviting exercise facilities with views to the outdoors

• Appealing entryways and integration with neighborhood walkways

• Site planning that includes access to fresh food and contributes to pedestrian safety, walkability, and community

Incorporating such strategies into any LEED project has become an established pathway to an Innovation credit, with five such projects approved for the credit with Singh’s support.

One of these is Via Verde, a mixed-income housing complex under construction in the South Bronx that will include rooftop community gardens, recreational spaces for children, and an onsite fitness center. The design features daylit interior stairs as well as multiple exterior steps leading from ground-level courtyards to a number of rooftop terraces. The project team, including Dattner Architects and Grimshaw Architects with developers Jonathan Rose Companies and Phipps Houses, hopes to include an onsite farmers’ market.

Copyright 2012 by BuildingGreen Inc.

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