NYC Agencies Team Up on Guidelines for an Active City

active_design_guidelines.jpgCity officials, architects, planners, and public health advocates crammed into the Center for Architecture last night for the unveiling of New York City’s Active Design Guidelines.

Heralded as a first-of-its-kind collaboration between four city departments — Health, Transportation, Design and Construction, and City Planning — the effort underscores that New Yorkers, as much as we like to think of  ourselves as a city of walkers, need to live healthier lifestyles.

The statistics touched on last night (included in the manual’s opening chapter), reveal that the majority of adults in New York City are either overweight or obese. More alarming, perhaps, is that 43 percent of elementary school children are overweight, and the rate is rising.

As sobering as those numbers are, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley stressed that the city’s effort "is not just about lowering obesity rates, but also about addressing diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, depression, and cognitive decline.” Such chronic diseases, he stated, are exacerbated by how we currently design the built environment and may be quelled with even the most moderate amounts of exercise, whether it be from walking, bicycling, or even climbing the stairs.

To this end, livable streets activists will find much to applaud in the pages of the Active Design Guidelines. Inside, many elements of the city’s new Street Design Manual are further substantiated with research indicating that safer streets will translate to a markedly healthier city. From mixing land uses to — yes — addressing the supply and location of parking, the guidelines focus on the role urban design should play in making New York City a healthier place to live.

While this is a far-reaching and impressive document that other cities should seek to emulate, it is, in the end, only guidelines. The hard part, as always, is executing the wisest policies and enacting the right recommendations.

  • The positive thing about this manual is that the Department of Design & Construction and the Department of City Planning are on board. Now, we can point to Active Design Guidelines the next time they allow one of those soul-destroying pedestrian-unfriendly projects.

  • Why wasn’t Ray Kelly at the event to explain NYC’s response to the leading public health issue posed by our built environment–injury and death from motor vehicles?

  • Mazewalker

    maybe now we can get the city to allow city employees to use the stairs in the buildings it owns.

  • Hey! That’s the grand staircase at Cooper Union’s new building at 41 Cooper Square!

  • Good report that I finally got a chance to look at. I’m really happy they talked about buildings that lead people to nice staircases. This is something I’ve been talking about myself for years.

    In a 3 story building at Rutgers University where the entrance lead to a beautiful staircase, everyone used the stairs. However in another building the entrance lead to the elevators and the stairs were just for emergencies. There everyone took the elevator to go up a messily 2 floors!

  • Ian Turner

    My building doesn’t even allow stairwell access except in emergencies. I work on the 4th floor and have to take the elevator up and down every time. There are five elevators to serve 4 floors. It’s insane.

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