Active Design Guidelines

Active Design Guidelines | Notes of Interest

Active Design Guidelines, a collaborative effort of four New York City municipal agencies, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), Department of Correction (DOC), Department of Transportation (DOT), and Department of City Planning (DCP), along with countless civic organizations and professional societies, sprang from the results of several Fit City conferences.

Fit City began as a conference in 2006, bringing together the AlA New York Chapter and the New York City DOHMH for a public conference promoting physical activity through design. In a spirit of intellectual flexibility and frankness, architects, designers, physicians, and public health experts shared a stage to discuss how architecture and design excellence could positively counteract the alarming number of annual deaths stemming from obesity and other chronic diseases. Many of the solutions were simple: emphasize and improve stairs; pursue mixed-use zoning that creates safe and effective pedestrian circulation by bike and on foot, even for those with disabilities.

Four years and five conferences later, over 500 miles of dedicated bike lanes have been built, proceeding toward a master plan of over 900 miles. Major projects resulted from the Fit City efforts, most importantly the Active Design Guidelines. Published in January 2010, through a unique multi-agency, inter-disciplinary collaboration with the New York City Department of Design and Construction (DDC), DOHMH, DOT, DCP, the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), as well as leading academic experts, the Guidelines are a set of evidence-based and best-practice strategies to guide public and private sector architects, designers, planners and owners and managers on the routine inclusion of physical activity-promoting strategies in the design, construction, and operations of buildings, streets, and neighborhoods. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has helped to create conditions for the multi-agency collaboration needed for the successful development and implementation of the Guidelines.

Active Design Guidelines

The strategies in the Guidelines are being incorporated into DDC standards used to guide staff, contractors and consultants working on public sector street and building projects, and similar policies are being considered for adoption by other cities and private agencies. The DOT is actively using the street design strategies. In addition, DCP has created zoning incentives for supermarket development and bicycle storage. Feasibility studies for zoning incentives for additional active design measures, such as best practice stairwells, are underway.

The Guidelines provide an excellent reference for architects and policy makers. Resources include checklists, specific design strategies, illustrations, project examples and a model LEED Innovation Credit for Increased Physical Activity. Since their release, over 4,000 copies of the Guidelines have been downloaded from the DDC website, with approximately 1,000 copies in New York City, 1,500 copies in the U.S. outside of New York City, and 1,500 copies internationally. A series of workshops with designers, design academics and property management professionals is currently underway to garner input to guide ongoing implementation activities.

Broad implementation of the Guidelines, particularly in the public sector, will create a healthier built environment across all neighborhoods, including our high needs neighborhoods with the highest obesity rates. Adoption of the Guidelines strategies will help address the health disparities affected by current disparities in environmental supports for healthy behaviors. Gayle Nicoll, PhD, says in her reference letter, "The Active Design Guidelines and the Active Design Initiative amongst environmental designers will be one of the major forces of change within the professions of architecture, urban design, urban planning, interior design and health promotion for the next decade."


  • Photo Credit: © Center for Architecture and AIA New York Chapter; © The City of New York

Active Design Guidelines

Active Design Guidelines

Jury Comments

This could spread like wildfire.

This is an extraordinarily important issue in terms of architecture being transformational. Not just about the quality of the spaces that we are shaping, this is about direct impact on the individual.

One of the most creative and helpful documents that I’ve seen in a long time.

2011 Institute Honors for Collaborative and Professional Achievement Award Jury

  • Chris Morrison, AIA, (Chair)
  • Cunningham | Quill Architects
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Edward Feiner, FAIA
  • Perkins & Will
  • Arlington, Va.
  • David Frommer, AIA
  • UNLV Planning and Construction
  • Las Vegas
  • Diane Georgopulos, FAIA
  • Mass Housing Finance Agency
  • Cambridge, Mass.
  • Clyde Porter, FAIA
  • Dallas County Community College District
  • Mesquite, Tex.

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