Advancing Research on Active Design

The Center for Active Design has partnered with the Dr. Elizabeth Garland, MD, and her research team at the Department of Preventive Medicine, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (Sinai) to collect data on residents before moving into the first phase of Prospect Plaza, a newly built affordable housing site in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Prospect Plaza was designed and built by Blue Sea Development to promote resident health as part of the Active Design Verified initiative. The baseline data collection, which is funded by the New York State Health Foundation, is envisioned to feed into a larger study to evaluate the impact of Active Design strategies on residents in affordable housing.

A substantial body of evidence links the design of our built environment to health outcomes, however, limited research is available on the impact of Active Design in affordable housing contexts. Findings from a recent pilot study conducted by Sinai suggest that Active Design improves resident health. After one year of living in Arbor House, an Active Design affordable housing site in the South Bronx, there was a significant improvement in the number of women who achieved moderate physical activity. There was also a significant increase in stair use at Arbor House. On average, 58% of residents reported an increase in the number of flights they ascended per week, as compared to 20% of residents in the control building. Focus group participants reported that the positive ambiance resulting from Active Design strategies and increased feeling of safety truly supported and promoted their pursuit of health and wellness.

Building on this successful history of positively impacting resident health, Prospect Plaza was designed with many strategies that are similar to Arbor House. For example, Prospect Plaza includes recreation spaces with exercise equipment and gardening opportunities, bike storage, and stairs that are designed to entice use. Data was collected prior to residents moving into Prospect Plaza and at a nearby control building. In a year, Sinai researchers plan to conduct a follow-up assessment.

Study findings have the potential to inform the design of housing so that all people to have the opportunity to live healthier lives. This research could also have a significant impact on the design of affordable housing nationally. It will provide data for evidence-based decision making among stakeholders, such as developers and governments, who play a crucial role in ensuring that our homes and neighborhoods are designed and built to support health.

To download a Policy Brief on the impact of Active Design in affordable housing, click here.

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    Lobby with a living green wall and visible stair entryway to the stairwell in Arbor House. Photo Credit: Bernstein Associates.
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    Outdoor lighting and additional greenery adds to the pedestrian sidewalks at Prospect Plaza, in Brooklyn, New York.
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    Outdoor exercise equipment accessible to building residents at Prospect Plaza in Brooklyn, New York. Photo Credit: Emily Young.