Active Design Miami: Building Connections for Holistic Community Health

At this year’s SXSW, a session headlined by Surgeon General Vivek Murthy emphasized a significant, yet often overlooked, public health crisis: social isolation. According to Murthy, social isolation is connected to an increase in mortality on par with smoking or obesity.Trends are concerning: the number of adults reporting loneliness has doubled in recent history, from 20 percent in the 1980s to 40 percent today.

Luckily, many communities are beginning to recognize that place-based design can play a crucial role in facilitating social connection, as demonstrated by the recently-published Active Design Miami: Design & Policy Strategies for Healthier Communities. Originally inspired by New York City’s Active Design Guidelines, Active Design Miami tailors evidence-based strategies to unique local needs, elevating connectivity—both physical and social—as an overarching goal for shaping design and development across the region’s 35 jurisdictions.

Funded by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the collaborative initiative to create Active Design Miami was led by Miami Center for Architecture and Design in conjunction with the local AIA chapter, the Florida Department of Health, and a diverse expert advisory committee. MCAD enlisted the Center for Active Design to provide research and technical support.

The impetus for creating Active Design Miami was clear. Marta Viciedo of Urban Impact Lab notes, “In many parts of the Miami region, single-use development patterns, car-centric street design, and lack of access to parks and public spaces have taken their toll.” Residents are facing increasing commute times, higher rates of social isolation, and limited opportunities for daily physical activity. Meanwhile, Miami-Dade County has become the fourth most dangerous place to walk or bike in the U.S. At a recent panel discussion, Cheryl Jacobs, Executive Vice President at MCAD, discussed Active Design Miami’s efforts to reverse these trends. “We moved away from the narrow definition of health, a very physical definition of health, to a broader perspective on social, physical and mental wellbeing. Social isolation is becoming one of the most damaging results of our sprawling development.”

Miami’s annual Fit City conference held on February 24 served as a venue to launch Active Design Miami, and facilitate yet another type of connectivity – the professional and interpersonal connections needed to support implementation. Three local municipalities have already adopted Active Design Miami at a policy level, and many more are expected to follow suit in the coming months.

Joanna Lombard is a Professor at the University of Miami School of Architecture who served as a key advisor in developing Active Design Miami and presented at Fit City. According to Joanna, “The research is clear. There are fortuitous opportunities—through improved access to parks, trails, and pedestrian-supportive neighborhoods—where design can facilitate physical activity AND strengthen social supports.” CfAD looks forward to tracking success stories from the region as momentum for implementing Active Design Miami continues to build.

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    Active Design Miami
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    Workshop at Fit City Miami