Walk This Way: Center for Active Design Fights Obesity with Architecture Walk This Way: Center for Active Design Fights Obesity with Architecture
Walk This Way: Center for Active Design Fights Obesity with Architecture
We’ve designed our world to keep us from having to exert ourselves. We have escalators and elevators and moving sidewalks precisely because we don’t want to be forced to work out all the time. But combine these conveniences with the largely desk-bound life of the modern knowledge worker, and it starts to look like we may have erred in the other direction—engineering physical activity out of our lives.
A new nonprofit organization in New York City is trying to change that. The Center for Active Design, announced by Mayor Mike Bloomberg last week, is working with architects and designers to create urban spaces that encourage movement, community, and yes, maybe even a little light exercise by incorporating features like staircases, pedestrian paths, and secure bicycle storage. It’s an effort to combat obesity with architecture.
The percentage of obese Americans, defined as those with a body mass index of 30 or above, is on track to rise to 27.1 percent this year, up from 26.2 percent in 2012. In a Gallup poll released earlier this year, a lack of exercise was identified as the single most important lifestyle factor affecting obesity rates in America. In an indication of the seriousness of the situation, the American Medical Association recently voted to recognize obesity as a disease for the first time.
The good news is that evidence suggests that small design changes—something as small, even, as a sign pointing out the health benefits of taking the stairs—can influence how much physical activity people get. And studies show that even minimal regular exercise (a few flights of stairs every day counts) can have large health benefits.
The “Active Design strategies” endorsed by this new center try to make physical activity part of daily life. A building might have attractive, conveniently located stairs, such as the Via Verde affordable housing development in South Bronx, or landscape elements that inspire walking and jogging, such as the paths around the New York City Police Academy building in Queens.
The center breaks Active Design into four key concepts:
• Active buildings: encouraging greater physical movement within buildings for users and visitors;
• Active transportation: supporting a safe and vibrant environment for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders;
• Active recreation: shaping play and activity spaces for people of different ages, interests, and abilities; and
• Improving access to nutritious foods in communities that need them most.
According to a press release from the Mayor’s office, the center is currently working with New York City, as well as with cities elsewhere in the U.S. and in Canada, the U.K., and Brazil, on streets, buildings, and other public spaces.
This new center seems to be an extension of earlier work by the city’s Department of Design and Construction. Indeed, Bloomberg and New York City have been pushing for new ways to fight public health problems, from the controversial super-size soda ban to the new CitiBike system. As part of last week’s announcement, Bloomberg also issued a new executive order requiring all new major public developments or renovations to follow active design principles.
In that context, some people will surely think about this new center as just another manifestation of Bloomberg’s “nanny state.” But the practical benefits are healthier citizens and less public and private money spent addressing the myriad preventable problems that come with obesity.
And it’s no accident that active design principles often result in spaces that are especially beautiful and popular. Think the Renzo Piano-designed New York Times building, with its extensive indoor staircases, the central atrium of Thom Mayne’s Cooper Union building, or the High Line park, with its extensive pedestrian-oriented landscaping.
Start taking ownership of your health with our DIY Health Check-up.
Text Messages You Can Smell This company's device and app allows you to send scents through your phone.
This Tree Produces Forty Types of Fruit The living, edible art of Sam Van Aken's grafted stone fruit experiment
Dear 14-Year-Old Me The intuitive, emotional side of yourself guides your experiences and shapes how you learn. You grasp information viscerally, which can make traditional schooling a little bit harder for you.
Danish Architects Reimagine the Zoo The search for a more ethical wildlife park
Learning to Farm Fish Responsibly Breakthroughs in aquaculture are winning over longtime skeptics.
Stories for Boys Sundance-winner Rich Hill picks up where Linklater left off.
The Human Side of Spam Spanish photographer Christina de Middel smudges fact and fiction with her staged images of Russian widows and Nigerian lawyers in distress.
Why Oysters are Shacking up in Old Subway Cars States scrap over metal in a race to boast the greenest reef.
A Cable Car Revolution in the World’s Highest City The future of Bolivia’s public transportation takes to the skies.
When Humans Fight, but Animals Win Penguins have resorted to using landmines to keep pesky humans away.
So You Think You’re a Foodie? Pop culture was onto these trends way before you were. A sampling of the screwball comedies, sob stories, and sci-fis that anticipated our culinary moment
Dear Nine-Year-Old Me The transition is going to be difficult for you, but whenever you feel a little lonely and left out, take comfort in the knowledge that you are honing one of your greatest superpowers.