August 3, 2010
by Bill Millard

Event: Active Living Research and NYC Active Design Summit
Location: Center for Architecture, 07.28.10
Speakers: Jim Sallis, Ph.D. — Professor of Psychology, San Diego State University, & Program Director, Active Living Research; Karen Lee, MD — NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH); Jon Orcutt — NYC Department of Transportation (DOT); Shampa Chanda — NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD); Alexandros Washburn, AIA — NYC Department of City Planning (DCP); Adena Long — NYC Department of Parks; Andrew Rundle, Dr.PH — Physical Activity Epidemiologist, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University; Joyce Lee, AIA, LEED AP — NYC Office of Management and Budget; David Burney, FAIA — Commissioner, NYC Department of Design and Construction (DDC); Lourdes Hernández-Cordero, Dr.PH — Clinical Sociomedical Sciences Researcher, Mailman School, Columbia; Mindy Fullilove, MD — Clinical Psychiatry/Public Health Researcher, New York State Psychiatric Institute and Mailman School, Columbia; Kevin Nadal, Ph.D. — Multicultural Psychology Researcher, City University of New York
Organizers: Active Living Research, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; AIANY


Courtesy of NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene

After five Fit City conferences and the Active Design Guidelines (ADG) publication, researchers nationwide are exploring the relation of urban design to epidemic “diseases of energy” that are reaching the point where institutional status seems appropriate. The recent half-day summit drew attention to policy and infrastructural expressions of the city’s commitment to active design and these efforts’ basis in research. What began with common sense, good intentions, and foundation grants is now a movement picking up steam in New York and beyond.

While not a public meeting, the Active Living Research (ALR) Summit included one announcement of potential public interest: DDC Commissioner David Burney, FAIA, citing the overwhelming response to the ADG, proposed a new Center for Active Design, a nonprofit organization that would launch in spring 2012, when current funding for the ADG team expire. Burney and other officials highlighted current and projected efforts to reshape civic space to foster healthier living. Along with pedestrian-plaza reclamations and bike lanes, various agencies are conducting behind-the-scenes activities such as “food desert” mapping to guide City Planning zoning-incentive decisions (the Food Retail Expansion to Support Health program, or FRESH). Volunteers partnering with the Parks Department have built mountain biking and bicycle motocross facilities at long-neglected Highbridge Park; when the High Bridge reopens in 2012 or 2013, linking Manhattan and Bronx bike paths, Washington Heights may become the city’s center for extreme sports.

The city is also laying groundwork for a public/private partnership on bike sharing. Asked about the French experience with Vélib rentals, DOT’s Jon Orcutt noted that the system’s widely publicized problems generate useful feedback about ways to fine-tune details of pricing and vandal-deterring design. Aware of the mixed results in Paris but also the positive effects in multiple cities, NYC is weighing potential vendors carefully before setting an announcement date.

In briefer talks, ALR’s participants presented epidemiologic and sociological findings on a cluster of interrelated topics: walkability studies, ethnic-group correlations with views of physical activity as a cultural norm, and an “intervention block” reversing blight from the 1980s crack-cocaine trade.

Bill Millard is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in OCULUS, Icon, Content, The Architect’s Newspaper, and other publications.


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