Alex Goldmark is a senior producer in the newsroom for New Tech City and Transportation Nation.
NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg issued an executive order Wednesday requiring all new government facilities to be designed in a way that encourages physical activity, like taking the stairs. He wants to help the rest of the city do the same with new legislation and a new academic center. It's all part of a push to spread a philosophy called Active Design.
As the there-term mayor leaves office, he's pushing to institutionalize his expansive efforts to promote public health already codified in bans on smoking and transfats and attempted more recently on large sugary drinks. In this latest initiative, Bloomberg is turning to architecture and design requirements to fight obesity.
Contemporary design tends toward sedentary. Many contemporary office buildings discourage people from taking the stairs or even walking more than a few feet to refill their coffee. Some offices do this in overt ways like placing parking lots right next to entrances or locking stairwell re-entry doors, other buildings promote sloth through subtle or even unintentional signals like poor signage that implies the stairs are for emergencies only.
That's bad design in the eyes of Mayor Bloomberg and advocates of active design. By this view, places can be built to foster walking and a range of physical activities accommodating all ages and abilities. Promoting stairs though, is the most often cited example of the practice applied to buildings.
Bloomberg announced two separate pieces of legislation to encourage—though not require, the city stresses—stairway access. Both require City Council approval.
The first would mandate that building owners make one well-marked stairwell available for use in every building and add signage near elevators "prompting stair use." The other proposal would allow landlords to use devices to keep stairwell doors open for up to three consecutive floors to make it easier for workers to take those short, intra-building trips on foot instead of by elevator.
To make government offices more active, Bloomberg's executive order obliges all city agencies to use active design strategies on new constructions and major renovations. The city released active design guidelines in 2010 and the office of Design, Development and Construction put them to use on various public space projects, city buildings and two affordable housing projects by Blue Sea developers.
As with his previous health initiatives, Mayor Bloomberg wants this idea replicated beyond the five boroughs, so he also announced the launch of a nonprofit institution to spread the active design gospel. The Center for Active Design "will serve as an international resource to communicate best design practices and share health research as we seek to reduce obesity and chronic diseases by promoting physical activity and healthy eating through design,” said Executive Director Joanna Frank in a statement.
The three-person center is funded mostly from $285,000 from the Mayor's Obesity Task Force, as well as other municipalities and regional governments around the world.
The organization's website already has case studies of actively designed places including the the High Line and the New York Police Academy.