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Understanding the Impact of
Active Design in Affordable
Housing: Insights for
Policymakers and Developers
PROMOTING HEALTH THROUGH DESIGN
PREPARED BY:
Abigail Claflin, MA;Nur Asri,
MA;Reena Agarwal, MUP;
Suzanne Nienaber MUP, AICP
JANUARY 26, 2017
POLICY BRIEF
2 © 2017 CENTER FOR ACTIVE DESIGN
Active Design is an evidence-based approach to development that
identifies urban planning and architecture solutions to support healthy
communities.The term “Active Design” was coined from New York City’s
interagency collaboration that culminated in the 2010 publication of the
Active Design Guidelines.The Center for Active Design (CfAD), founded in
2012, emerged from this initiative and influences a range of projects and
policies that impact the health of New Yorkers. Active Design strategies
are practical design solutions that are rooted in research and informed by
case studies and best practices.
The design of our communities impacts our health
The relationship between the design of building, streets, neighborhoods and health
is no longer a matter of speculation. Thanks to over a decade of research, we know
that there is a direct connection between the design of the built environment and
physical, social, and mental health outcomes. In addition, a multitude of successful
design projects serve as case studies that demonstrate how design can be used to
promote health in unique community contexts.
Policymakers and developers can promote health by incorporating
Active Design into affordable housing
Affordable housing represents an essential typology for addressing the needs
of populations with some of the greatest health risks. Low-income communities
continue to face a disproportionately higher burden of chronic diseases, such as
heart disease, cancer, and asthma.6
In many low-income and minority communities,
it is difficult to find resources such as safe, walkable streets, well-maintained
playgrounds and recreation spaces, or access to healthy food.2, 7-10
Rooftop hydroponic farm at the Arbor House affordable housing development in the South Bronx, New York
3CENTERFORACTIVEDESIGN.ORG
Luis grew up in the South Bronx, an area with some of the highest
rates of overweight and obesity in New York State. Growing up,
healthy food was not readily available or affordable, and spaces
for physical activity, such as playgrounds, were unmaintained and
dangerous. By the time he was 27, Luis weighed almost 400 pounds,
and his physical and mental health were suffering. While he had
made efforts to improve his health, it wasn’t until he moved into
Arbor House that he was able to lose nearly 200 pounds. Arbor House
has allowed him to reimagine a future for his three children, where it
will be “…second nature to them to be healthy,” he says.“It won’t be
foreign to them like it was for me.”11
TESTIMONIAL
Luis’ Story:
Active Design in Affordable Housing can Change Lives
Stakeholders can ensure affordable housing residents have opportunities for
healthy living by incorporating Active Design. Developers can now receive technical
assistance and recognition through the Active Design Verified initiative (detailed
below). Policymakers and funders can establish guidance and incentives based on
the latest evidence and best practices.
FINDINGS FROM A PILOT STUDY IN THE BRONX SUGGEST THAT ACTIVE
DESIGN IMPROVES RESIDENTS’ HEALTH
The study, conducted by the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, compared
the health of residents in Arbor House—a 124-unit building with Active Design
elements in the South Bronx—with residents in a building without Active Design
features. After one year of living in Arbor House residents in the study reported:
•	 A significant increase in stair use, with a 53% decrease in the number of
individuals who reported not having walked up any flights of stairs per week.
•	 On average, 58% reported an increase in the number of flights they ascended
per week; 20% of residents increased the number of flights in the control
building.
•	 Focus group participants reported that the Active Design ambiance and
feeling of safety truly supported and promoted the active pursuit of health
and wellness.
More research is needed in order to more fully understand how Active Design
impacts the health of affordable housing residents.
4 © 2017 CENTER FOR ACTIVE DESIGN
Active Design Verified supports and recognizes affordable housing that
integrates Active Design
Active Design Verified (ADV) inspires the design of affordable housing that promotes
resident health and wellbeing. ADV is a joint initiative, led by the Center for Active
Design and the Partnership for a Healthier America. As part of ADV, developers
commit to implementing Active Design strategies within a percentage of their
affordable housing portfolios. Developers who commit to ADV receive training and
technical assistance to ensure successful integration of Active Design strategies.
Over the course of the commitment, the developer also receives verification of
progress and public recognition of success.
Affordable housing projects that are a part of ADV incorporate design elements that
invite everyday use, such as stairs, supportive walking and biking infrastructure, and
on-site exercise facilities. ADV strategies also acknowledge post-occupancy efforts
with free or low-cost programming that continue to support resident health. Over
4,200 affordable housing units across the country are estimated to be impacted
through ADV.
PROSPECT PLAZA IS LEADING THE WAY
Prospect Plaza is the first multi-family affordable housing site to achieve ADV
recognition. Prospect Plaza is a newly constructed development by Blue Sea
Development in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Brownsville residents are majority Black
(76%) and Hispanic (20%) and nearly 40% are living below the poverty line.
According to the Office of Vital Statistics, in NYC in 2011 and 2012 Brownsville
had the highest death rates from all causes, as compared to the rest of NYC, with
preventable diseases wielding an especially heavy burden.
Upon completion, Prospect Plaza will offer nearly 400 housing units across three
sites, plus 24,000 square feet of supermarket/retail space and an 8,400 square
foot community facility. The development is comprised of five buildings across
three adjacent blocks, a massive undertaking that will provide neighborhood-level
healthy opportunities for residents to be active, access healthy food, and engage
with neighbors. Prospect Plaza features a number of Active Design elements that
contribute to its ADV recognition:
Outdoor lighting and additional greenery adds to the pedestrian sidewalks at Prospect Plaza
5CENTERFORACTIVEDESIGN.ORG
Outdoor space for adults and children to relax, socialize, and be active
Onsite and easily accessible outdoor exercise areas and recreation courtyards
encourage physical activity among residents. Research shows that outdoor
fitness equipment, suitable for all ages, and painted ground markings
increase physical activity and stimulate play.12-14
By engaging in regular
physical activity in these spaces, residents stand to reduce their overall risk of
coronary heart disease and gain numerous other health benefits.15, 16
Gardens for activity, engagement with neighbors, and healthy food access
Raised garden beds in the outdoor space offer Prospect Plaza residents an
opportunity to engage in community gardening. Community gardeners tend
to meet the recommended fruit and vegetable intake, consuming more than
non-gardeners.17
Gardening is also great physical activity for all ages and has
potential weight control benefits.18, 19
Inviting stairs for physical activity as part of daily living
Stairwells at Prospect Plaza are well-lit, maximize daylighting, and feature
speaker systems that project music to encourage stair use. Signs on each
floor serve as reminders that the stairs are conveniently located and promote
health. Stair climbing throughout the day can improve cardiovascular health
and lower the risk of early mortality.20
Bike parking facilities encourage residents to bicycle for travel and leisure
Indoor and secure long-term bike storage are offered in lower ground floors,
marked with clear wayfinding signage. Residents and visitors can also lock
their bikes to outdoor bike racks. Bicycling for leisure or travel can help
residents meet the recommended levels of weekly moderate exercise.21, 22
Walking distance from amenities
Prospect Plaza is situated within walking distance of daily amenities and
public transportation. Walking at least 30 minutes a day helps reduce the risk
of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.23-25
EVALUATING ACTIVE DESIGN AT PROSPECT PLAZA WILL INFORM
AFFORDABLE HOUSING POLICY AND PRACTICE
Prospect Plaza offers a prime opportunity to build upon the Arbor House pilot
study and fill a much needed gap in the available research base. Responding to
the need for additional research, the Center for Active Design has partnered with
the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai to evaluate the impact of Active
Design on the health of residents moving into Prospect Plaza.
View from Arbor House hallway looking into out towards outdoor exercise area
6 © 2017 CENTER FOR ACTIVE DESIGN
The evaluation uses body measurements and questionnaires to observe Prospect
Plaza residents’ health and behavior before moving into Prospect Plaza. At the
same time, this data will be collected on residents living in a building without
Active Design features, allowing for comparison between groups. Residents are
invited to participate in the study at their lease signings.
The additional sites at Prospect Plaza provide an opportunity to expand the study
and maximize its impact. Pending funding, the research team will collect data at
all five buildings, using passive monitoring and activity trackers, and conducting
focus groups.
Conclusions and Policy Implications
Developers and policymakers play a crucial role in ensuring that our homes and
neighborhoods are designed and built to support health. Affordable housing that
supports the health of residents has potential cost savings for developers, tenants,
and public and private health providers. Healthy affordable housing initiatives,
such as ADV, and continued research, such as the Arbor House and Prospect Plaza
evaluations, are important contributors to sparking systemic change in affordable
housing.
Regulatory and funding mechanisms should also be employed to positively impact
affordable housing and neighborhood development patterns. For example, Low-
Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) are critical to making affordable housing
developments financially viable. The LIHTC program is administered at the state
level, where a Qualified Allocation Plan (QAP) determines criteria for awarding tax
credits. QAP criteria directly influence the siting and design of affordable housing
in each state. States can impact residents’ health by refining QAP criteria to elevate
evidence-based design strategies.
The recently released Housing New York plan signifies affordable housing as a
priority for communities across the country. We must seize this opportune moment
for widespread adoption of Active Design in affordable housing, ensuring positive
consequences for health equity, quality of life, and community vitality.
About the Center for Active Design
The Center for Active Design is the leading non-profit organization that uses design
to foster healthy and engaged communities. Our mission is to transform design and
development practice, ensuring equitable access to vibrant public and private spaces
that support healthy communities. For more information on our affordable housing
initiatives, contact info@centerforactivedesign.org.
Support for this work was provided by the New York State Health Foundation (NYSHealth).The
mission of NYSHealth is to expand health insurance coverage, increase access to high-quality
health care services, and improve public and community health.The views presented here are
those of the authors and not necessarily those of the New York State Health Foundation or its
directors, officers, and staff.
7CENTERFORACTIVEDESIGN.ORG
References
1.	 Ogden, C.L., et al., Prevalence of childhood and adult obesity in the United States, 2011-2012. JAMA, 2014. 311(8):
p. 806-14.
2.	 Singh, G.K., M. Siahpush, and M.D. Kogan, Neighborhood socioeconomic conditions, built environments, and
childhood obesity. Health Aff (Millwood), 2010. 29(3): p. 503-12.
3.	 Casagrande, S.S., et al., Built environment and health behaviors among African Americans: a systematic review.
Am J Prev Med, 2009. 36(2): p. 174-81.
4.	 Sallis, J.F., et al., Role of built environments in physical activity, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. Circulation,
2012. 125(5): p. 729-37.
5.	 Gordon-Larsen, P., et al., Inequality in the built environment underlies key health disparities in physical activity
and obesity. Pediatrics, 2006. 117(2): p. 417-24.
6.	 Bodenheimer, T., E. Chen, and H.D. Bennett, Confronting the growing burden of chronic disease: can the U.S.
health care workforce do the job? Health Aff (Millwood), 2009. 28(1): p. 64-74.
7.	 Jenkins, G.R., et al., Disparities in Quality of Park Play Spaces between Two Cities with Diverse Income and Race/
Ethnicity Composition: A Pilot Study. Int J Environ Res Public Health, 2015. 12(7): p. 8009-22.
8.	 Kamel, A.A., P.B. Ford, and A.T. Kaczynski, Disparities in park availability, features, and characteristics by social
determinants of health within a U.S.-Mexico border urban area. Prev Med, 2014. 69 Suppl 1: p. S111-3.
9.	 Zhu, X. and C. Lee, Walkability and safety around elementary schools economic and ethnic disparities. Am J Prev
Med, 2008. 34(4): p. 282-90.
10.	Jutte, D.P., J.L. Miller, and D.J. Erickson, Neighborhood adversity, child health, and the role for community
development. Pediatrics, 2015. 135 Suppl 2: p. S48-57.
11.	 TIME Staff, Meet the Regular People Living in America’s Smartest Homes, in TIME. 2014.
12.	 Cohen, D.A., et al., Impact and cost-effectiveness of family Fitness Zones: a natural experiment in urban public
parks. Health Place, 2012. 18(1): p. 39-45.
13.	 Stratton, G. and E. Mullan, The effect of multicolor playground markings on children’s physical activity level during
recess. Prev Med, 2005. 41(5-6): p. 828-33.
14.	 Ridgers, N.D., et al., Long-term effects of a playground markings and physical structures on children’s recess
physical activity levels. Prev Med, 2007. 44(5): p. 393-7.
15.	 Powell Ke Fau - Thompson, P.D., et al., Physical activity and the incidence of coronary heart disease. 1987(0163-
7525 (Print)).
16.	 Siscovick Ds Fau - LaPorte, R.E., J.M. LaPorte Re Fau - Newman, and J.M. Newman, The disease-specific benefits
and risks of physical activity and exercise. 1985(0033-3549 (Print)).
17.	 Litt, J.S., et al., The influence of social involvement, neighborhood aesthetics, and community garden
participation on fruit and vegetable consumption. Am J Public Health, 2011. 101(8): p. 1466-73.
18.	 Wells, N.M., B.M. Myers, and C.R. Henderson, Jr., School gardens and physical activity: a randomized controlled
trial of low-income elementary schools. Prev Med, 2014. 69 Suppl 1: p. S27-33.
19.	 Zick, C.D., K. R. Smith, L. Kowaleski-Jones, C. Uno, and B. Merrill Harvesting more than vegetables:The potential
weight control benefits of community gardening. American Journal of Public Health, 103(6), 1110-1115, 2013.
103(6): p. 1110-1115.
20.	StepJockey. Health Benefits of Stair Climbing. May 11, 2016]; Available from: https://www.stepjockey.com/health-
benefits-of-stair-climbing.
21.	 Bassett, D.R., et al., Walking, cycling, and obesity rates in Europe, North America, and Australia. J Phys Act Health,
2008. 5(6): p. 795-814.
22.	 Shephard, R.J., Is active commuting the answer to population health? Sports Med, 2008. 38(9): p. 751-758.
23.	 Williams, P.T. and P.D. Thompson, Walking versus running for hypertension, cholesterol, and diabetes mellitus risk
reduction. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol, 2013. 33(5): p. 1085-91.
24.	 McCormack, G.R., B. Giles-Corti, and M. Bulsara, The relationship between destination proximity, destination mix
and physical activity behaviors. Prev Med, 2008. 46(1): p. 33-40.
25.	 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Step It Up! The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Promote
Walking and Walkable Communities. 2015, U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General:
Washington, D.C.
Photo Credits:
Cover Page:, Page 2:©Bernstein Associates

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World usa center for active design_2016_en_understanding the impact of active design in affordable housing

  • 1. Understanding the Impact of Active Design in Affordable Housing: Insights for Policymakers and Developers PROMOTING HEALTH THROUGH DESIGN PREPARED BY: Abigail Claflin, MA;Nur Asri, MA;Reena Agarwal, MUP; Suzanne Nienaber MUP, AICP JANUARY 26, 2017 POLICY BRIEF
  • 2. 2 © 2017 CENTER FOR ACTIVE DESIGN Active Design is an evidence-based approach to development that identifies urban planning and architecture solutions to support healthy communities.The term “Active Design” was coined from New York City’s interagency collaboration that culminated in the 2010 publication of the Active Design Guidelines.The Center for Active Design (CfAD), founded in 2012, emerged from this initiative and influences a range of projects and policies that impact the health of New Yorkers. Active Design strategies are practical design solutions that are rooted in research and informed by case studies and best practices. The design of our communities impacts our health The relationship between the design of building, streets, neighborhoods and health is no longer a matter of speculation. Thanks to over a decade of research, we know that there is a direct connection between the design of the built environment and physical, social, and mental health outcomes. In addition, a multitude of successful design projects serve as case studies that demonstrate how design can be used to promote health in unique community contexts. Policymakers and developers can promote health by incorporating Active Design into affordable housing Affordable housing represents an essential typology for addressing the needs of populations with some of the greatest health risks. Low-income communities continue to face a disproportionately higher burden of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, and asthma.6 In many low-income and minority communities, it is difficult to find resources such as safe, walkable streets, well-maintained playgrounds and recreation spaces, or access to healthy food.2, 7-10 Rooftop hydroponic farm at the Arbor House affordable housing development in the South Bronx, New York
  • 3. 3CENTERFORACTIVEDESIGN.ORG Luis grew up in the South Bronx, an area with some of the highest rates of overweight and obesity in New York State. Growing up, healthy food was not readily available or affordable, and spaces for physical activity, such as playgrounds, were unmaintained and dangerous. By the time he was 27, Luis weighed almost 400 pounds, and his physical and mental health were suffering. While he had made efforts to improve his health, it wasn’t until he moved into Arbor House that he was able to lose nearly 200 pounds. Arbor House has allowed him to reimagine a future for his three children, where it will be “…second nature to them to be healthy,” he says.“It won’t be foreign to them like it was for me.”11 TESTIMONIAL Luis’ Story: Active Design in Affordable Housing can Change Lives Stakeholders can ensure affordable housing residents have opportunities for healthy living by incorporating Active Design. Developers can now receive technical assistance and recognition through the Active Design Verified initiative (detailed below). Policymakers and funders can establish guidance and incentives based on the latest evidence and best practices. FINDINGS FROM A PILOT STUDY IN THE BRONX SUGGEST THAT ACTIVE DESIGN IMPROVES RESIDENTS’ HEALTH The study, conducted by the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, compared the health of residents in Arbor House—a 124-unit building with Active Design elements in the South Bronx—with residents in a building without Active Design features. After one year of living in Arbor House residents in the study reported: • A significant increase in stair use, with a 53% decrease in the number of individuals who reported not having walked up any flights of stairs per week. • On average, 58% reported an increase in the number of flights they ascended per week; 20% of residents increased the number of flights in the control building. • Focus group participants reported that the Active Design ambiance and feeling of safety truly supported and promoted the active pursuit of health and wellness. More research is needed in order to more fully understand how Active Design impacts the health of affordable housing residents.
  • 4. 4 © 2017 CENTER FOR ACTIVE DESIGN Active Design Verified supports and recognizes affordable housing that integrates Active Design Active Design Verified (ADV) inspires the design of affordable housing that promotes resident health and wellbeing. ADV is a joint initiative, led by the Center for Active Design and the Partnership for a Healthier America. As part of ADV, developers commit to implementing Active Design strategies within a percentage of their affordable housing portfolios. Developers who commit to ADV receive training and technical assistance to ensure successful integration of Active Design strategies. Over the course of the commitment, the developer also receives verification of progress and public recognition of success. Affordable housing projects that are a part of ADV incorporate design elements that invite everyday use, such as stairs, supportive walking and biking infrastructure, and on-site exercise facilities. ADV strategies also acknowledge post-occupancy efforts with free or low-cost programming that continue to support resident health. Over 4,200 affordable housing units across the country are estimated to be impacted through ADV. PROSPECT PLAZA IS LEADING THE WAY Prospect Plaza is the first multi-family affordable housing site to achieve ADV recognition. Prospect Plaza is a newly constructed development by Blue Sea Development in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Brownsville residents are majority Black (76%) and Hispanic (20%) and nearly 40% are living below the poverty line. According to the Office of Vital Statistics, in NYC in 2011 and 2012 Brownsville had the highest death rates from all causes, as compared to the rest of NYC, with preventable diseases wielding an especially heavy burden. Upon completion, Prospect Plaza will offer nearly 400 housing units across three sites, plus 24,000 square feet of supermarket/retail space and an 8,400 square foot community facility. The development is comprised of five buildings across three adjacent blocks, a massive undertaking that will provide neighborhood-level healthy opportunities for residents to be active, access healthy food, and engage with neighbors. Prospect Plaza features a number of Active Design elements that contribute to its ADV recognition: Outdoor lighting and additional greenery adds to the pedestrian sidewalks at Prospect Plaza
  • 5. 5CENTERFORACTIVEDESIGN.ORG Outdoor space for adults and children to relax, socialize, and be active Onsite and easily accessible outdoor exercise areas and recreation courtyards encourage physical activity among residents. Research shows that outdoor fitness equipment, suitable for all ages, and painted ground markings increase physical activity and stimulate play.12-14 By engaging in regular physical activity in these spaces, residents stand to reduce their overall risk of coronary heart disease and gain numerous other health benefits.15, 16 Gardens for activity, engagement with neighbors, and healthy food access Raised garden beds in the outdoor space offer Prospect Plaza residents an opportunity to engage in community gardening. Community gardeners tend to meet the recommended fruit and vegetable intake, consuming more than non-gardeners.17 Gardening is also great physical activity for all ages and has potential weight control benefits.18, 19 Inviting stairs for physical activity as part of daily living Stairwells at Prospect Plaza are well-lit, maximize daylighting, and feature speaker systems that project music to encourage stair use. Signs on each floor serve as reminders that the stairs are conveniently located and promote health. Stair climbing throughout the day can improve cardiovascular health and lower the risk of early mortality.20 Bike parking facilities encourage residents to bicycle for travel and leisure Indoor and secure long-term bike storage are offered in lower ground floors, marked with clear wayfinding signage. Residents and visitors can also lock their bikes to outdoor bike racks. Bicycling for leisure or travel can help residents meet the recommended levels of weekly moderate exercise.21, 22 Walking distance from amenities Prospect Plaza is situated within walking distance of daily amenities and public transportation. Walking at least 30 minutes a day helps reduce the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.23-25 EVALUATING ACTIVE DESIGN AT PROSPECT PLAZA WILL INFORM AFFORDABLE HOUSING POLICY AND PRACTICE Prospect Plaza offers a prime opportunity to build upon the Arbor House pilot study and fill a much needed gap in the available research base. Responding to the need for additional research, the Center for Active Design has partnered with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai to evaluate the impact of Active Design on the health of residents moving into Prospect Plaza. View from Arbor House hallway looking into out towards outdoor exercise area
  • 6. 6 © 2017 CENTER FOR ACTIVE DESIGN The evaluation uses body measurements and questionnaires to observe Prospect Plaza residents’ health and behavior before moving into Prospect Plaza. At the same time, this data will be collected on residents living in a building without Active Design features, allowing for comparison between groups. Residents are invited to participate in the study at their lease signings. The additional sites at Prospect Plaza provide an opportunity to expand the study and maximize its impact. Pending funding, the research team will collect data at all five buildings, using passive monitoring and activity trackers, and conducting focus groups. Conclusions and Policy Implications Developers and policymakers play a crucial role in ensuring that our homes and neighborhoods are designed and built to support health. Affordable housing that supports the health of residents has potential cost savings for developers, tenants, and public and private health providers. Healthy affordable housing initiatives, such as ADV, and continued research, such as the Arbor House and Prospect Plaza evaluations, are important contributors to sparking systemic change in affordable housing. Regulatory and funding mechanisms should also be employed to positively impact affordable housing and neighborhood development patterns. For example, Low- Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) are critical to making affordable housing developments financially viable. The LIHTC program is administered at the state level, where a Qualified Allocation Plan (QAP) determines criteria for awarding tax credits. QAP criteria directly influence the siting and design of affordable housing in each state. States can impact residents’ health by refining QAP criteria to elevate evidence-based design strategies. The recently released Housing New York plan signifies affordable housing as a priority for communities across the country. We must seize this opportune moment for widespread adoption of Active Design in affordable housing, ensuring positive consequences for health equity, quality of life, and community vitality. About the Center for Active Design The Center for Active Design is the leading non-profit organization that uses design to foster healthy and engaged communities. Our mission is to transform design and development practice, ensuring equitable access to vibrant public and private spaces that support healthy communities. For more information on our affordable housing initiatives, contact info@centerforactivedesign.org. Support for this work was provided by the New York State Health Foundation (NYSHealth).The mission of NYSHealth is to expand health insurance coverage, increase access to high-quality health care services, and improve public and community health.The views presented here are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the New York State Health Foundation or its directors, officers, and staff.
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