The Department of City Planning has produced the two-part publication Active Design: Shaping the Sidewalk Experience and its supplement, Shaping the Sidewalk Experience: Tools and Resources as a study focused on the critical public space network –sidewalks. The documents present the work not from the perspective of those who drive past sidewalks or of those who construct them, but of those who actually use them. It is the point of view of the pedestrian—the person inhabiting and experiencing the sidewalk—that has been prioritized. Active Design: Shaping the Sidewalk Experience uses the conceptual framework of the “sidewalk room” to grapple with the complexities of the policies, players, and physical form of shaping the pedestrians experience of this space.
Sidewalk spaces typically fall within the legal jurisdiction of transportation agencies, and are discussed primarily in terms of their ground plane. Through taking a spatial and dynamic approach to sidewalk spaces, this document attempts to complement the efforts of those agencies while broadening the list of people who should share the responsibility of contributing to successful sidewalks—be they policy makers, planners, urban designers, architects, landscape architects, or local shopkeepers.
When they are good, sidewalks are interconnected, interesting, and inviting. When they are good, they are also good for the pedestrian. They entice people to walk on them, and to be physically active without knowing it. Hence sidewalks can play a critical role in combating obesity and diabetes, the health epidemics of our time.
Funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, these publications offer a resource for communities working to encourage physical activity by transforming their built environments. It is an extension of the Active Design Guidelines (www.nyc.gov/adg), which strive to promote health and integrate physical activity into our daily lives through intelligent design.
To strive for the best possible pedestrian experience on sidewalks is also to strive for healthy and active communities. By prioritizing the infrastructure that enhances a neighborhood’s walkability, designers and policy makers can enable and encourage people to be more physically active in their daily routines—and to in turn be healthier in their lifestyle decisions. Active Design: Shaping the Sidewalk Experience includes a brief background about the topic of sidewalks, and presents the conceptual framework of the “sidewalk room.” Approaching the sidewalk as an inhabitable space, with the “room” broken into four planes that surround the pedestrian, provides a methodology for beginning to grapple with the complexities involved in shaping that space. Active Design: Shaping the Sidewalk Experience focuses on three parallel investigations: The Experience, The Physical Space, and The Policies.
This second section aims at enticing the reader to take action. Drawing on extensive fieldwork conducted in cities across the United States, this study offers a set of key considerations, tools, and references for shaping the sidewalk experience. These tools can be used by designers, policy makers, students, and anyone else striving to create healthy sidewalk environments in his or her community. The Appendices provide blank forms and instructions for use during site visits or sidewalk analysis and a national collection of sidewalk-related policies.