Active Design Guidelines

Active design is a planning approach to creating streets and buildings that support and promote the physical health and well-being of residents. Bringing active design to planning projects and neighborhoods encourages more active lifestyles – such as walking, bicycling, stair climbing – that ultimately help improve the health of neighborhoods and residents.

The 2010 award-winning Active Design Guidelines provides architects and urban designers with a manual of strategies for creating healthier buildings, streets, and urban spaces, based on the latest academic research and best practices in the field.

The Guidelines include:

  • Environmental Design and Health: Past and Present

  • Urban design strategies for creating neighborhoods, streets, and outdoor spaces that encourage walking, bicycling, and active transportation and recreation.
    PDF Document View the Urban Design Checklist.

  • Building design strategies for promoting physical activity where we work, live and play—for example, through the placement and design of stairs.
    PDF Document View the Building Design Checklist.

  • Discussion of synergies between active design and sustainable design through standards and initiatives such as LEED, PlaNYC and OneNYC.

The Active Design Guidelines were developed through a partnership of the New York City Departments of Design and Construction, Health and Mental Hygiene, Transportation, and City Planning, and the Office of Management and Budget, working with leading architectural and planning academics, and with help from the American Institute of Architects New York Chapter. Other City agencies that have contributed to the Guidelines include the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, Department of Buildings, Department of Parks and Recreation, School Construction Authority, Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and Department for the Aging.

The Department of City Planning has been a co-recipient of multiple awards for the Active Design Guidelines:

  • 2010 American Institute of Architects: New York Chapter Special Citation
  • 2010 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Award for Smart Growth Achievement, Overall Excellence in Smart Growth Award
  • 2011 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Active Living Research Translating Research into Policy
  • 2011 Sustainable Building Industry Council Grand Prize Award
  • 2011 American Institute of Architects National Collaborative Achievement award

Active Design Supplements

Four Active Design Supplements build on the success of the Guidelines:

  • Active Design: Shaping the Sidewalk Experience, released by the Department of City Planning on June 2013, provides a conceptual framework to understand the complexities of one of the most critical public space network components in a city: sidewalks.

  • PDF Document Active Design Guide for Community Groups provides recommendations for how one can make his or her community a place where people can be physically active, have access to healthy foods and beverages and be socially engaged.

  • PDF Document Affordable Designs for Affordable Housingfocuses on feasible, low-cost ways to implement active design in affordable housing developments. Drawing on case studies from 3 major U.S. cities, this supplement provides concrete examples of how simple design changes can help encourage active living among residents of all ages.

  • PDF Document Promoting Safety provides strategies for reducing the risk of injury while also promoting active living through walking, bicycling and increased access to public transit.