Designing for Active Living

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Key Facts:

According to the Center for City Park Excellence at the Trust for Public Land, almost half of all Americans get less than the recommended amount of physical activity, and more than a third don't get in any leisure-time physical activity at all. Dr. Richard Jackson, former head of the Centers for Disease Control's National Center for Environmental Health and now Professor at UCLA, adds that this overall lack of physical activity, along with Americans’ taste for fatty, unhealthy foods, has helped turn obesity into a "common cause epidemic” in the U.S. Furthermore, the cost of healthcare in the U.S., which now ranks as the most obese nation on earth, has reached 17 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). What’s the cause of this increasingly expensive health epidemic? – Some answers can be found in the built environment. Communities are often planned and built to enable constant car use, creating a "deep-rooted structural issue" impossible to remedy with medicines alone.
(Source: Center for City Park Excellence Trust for Public Land and “Dr. Richard Jackson: “We are No Longer Creating Wellbeing,” The Dirt, ASLA General Session, October 2010 )

“Designing for Active Living” is a new approach to community design that aims to design communities for all users, not just those driving in cars. Even older communities are retrofitting infrastructure to provide multiple transportation options and easier access to outdoor activities, improving health in the process. Designing for Active Living involves creating safe access to transit; “Complete Streets,” which offer wider sidewalks and bike lanes; bike share networks and stations; community trail networks; parks with exercise equipment; and community gardens -- anything that gets people outdoors. In fact, new research demonstrates just being outside provides physical and mental health benefits. Interacting with nature improves cognitive ability, provides a range of social benefits (like making people nicer), and shortens rehabilitation times among those recovering from illnesses. (Source: “Nature Makes Us More Caring,” University of Rochester, Marc Berman, Marc, John Jonides, and Stephen Kaplan, “The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting with Nature,” Psychological Science, Volume 19, Number 12, 2008 and “Dr. Richard Jackson: “We are No Longer Creating Wellbeing,” The Dirt ) 

Improving access to outdoor activities not only provides physical and mental health benefits for the residents of these communities but also creates environmental and economic value. Complete streets are lined with trees, which clean air, reduce asthma rates during hotter months, and mitigate the urban heat island effect. More walking and biking means fewer car trips and less carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere. Community gardens can be designed to increase local biodiversity, creating food sources for people as well as bees and bird species. Health communities also provide economic benefits: homes in walkable areas are worth more. According to a study by CEO for Cities, a “one-point increase in a community’s Walk Score rating was associated with an increase in value ranging from $700 to $3,000, depending on the market.  The gains were larger in denser, urban areas like Chicago and San Francisco.” (Source: Walking the Walk: How Walkability Raises Home Values in U.S. Cities)

This animation is designed to be a basic introduction to sustainable design concepts, created for the general public and students of all ages. We look forward to receiving your comments.