Reflections on a decade of Active Design

…Plus 4 trends that will shape the next 10 years!

To our global Active Design community,

Next year marks the 10th anniversary of New York City’s Active Design Guidelines (ADGs), a pioneering publication that broadened the conversation about who has the power to influence health—helping designers, developers, and policymakers recognize their essential role in promoting healthier, more engaged communities. With the ADGs serving as powerful DNA for our organization, the Center for Active Design (CfAD) was established to foster a global healthy design movement.

Today, we no longer need to convince people that the design of the built environment affects their wellbeing. In fact, to date, over 250,000 unique visitors from around the world have accessed CfAD’s resources to explore this connection. As we approach the next decade of Active Design, CfAD has identified four major trends that will shape the future of the movement.

Trend #1: Emphasis on holistic health

NYC’s Active Design Guidelines were originally developed as a tool to promote physical activity and address rising rates of obesity and chronic disease. While physical health outcomes continue to be of crucial importance, a surge in scholarly research over the last decade illuminates the built environment’s wide-ranging impacts on holistic health—from mental wellbeing to safety and social cohesion. Building on this knowledge base, CfAD spearheaded original research through our Assembly initiative to investigate how design, maintenance, and activation of public spaces can build trust and enhance the civic life of communities. Collectively, this research provides a trove of data for crafting evidence-based design solutions that maximize holistic health.

Click here to download the Assembly: Civic Design Guidelines and other resources.

Trend #2: Growth in private sector leadership

Eight years ago, the federal government was leading the charge to develop an evidence-based healthy building certification system known as Fitwel—eventually selecting CfAD as the operator to bring Fitwel to market. Today, we see the private sector embracing health-promoting design as a key market differentiator. CfAD has created Fitwel to be highly responsive to this demand, with data-driven technology that allows users to certify both new and existing buildings across their global portfolios. CfAD continues to apply the latest health evidence as we refine and expand Fitwel products (including the forthcoming Retail and Community scorecards)—and we strive to ensure that all buildings and communities can be informed by health.

Click here to learn more about Fitwel and optimize your projects to support health. Interested in piloting the new Fitwel Community Scorecard? Contact us for more information.

Trend #3: Equitable, community-driven design

CfAD is witnessing widespread demand for more inclusive design approaches that address persistent neighborhood inequities and respond to unique, community-defined priorities. Our work with a range of influencers—including city leaders, community-based organizations, and foundations—places equity at the center of design and development practice. As communities seek to expand engagement and foster greater civic trust, CfAD provides tools to support these goals—facilitating hands-on workshops, and conducting community surveys that generate more inclusive, demographically-representative input on local projects. The design innovations and tailored implementation solutions that emerge from these efforts truly capture the creativity and commitment of local residents.

Click to learn more about how CfAD has supported community-driven work in Bradenton, Tallahassee, and other communities.

Trend #4: Incentives for healthy development

If we trace built environment decision-making to its source, we know that funding priorities play a driving role in shaping public and private projects alike—and that related investment vehicles and financial incentives have dramatic potential to influence heath. As recent studies point to growing demand for investments that align with Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) metrics, CfAD is keeping pace with this movement to make health a focus. Working in conjunction with Fannie Mae, CfAD supported the creation of Fannie Mae’s Healthy Housing Rewards(TM) program, which offers significant financial incentives to affordable multifamily developers that achieve Fitwel certification. CfAD continues to investigate the potential for financial mechanisms to serve as key drivers for healthier development practices across all sectors.

Click here to learn more about participating in the Healthy Housing Rewards program.

While the healthy design movement has certainly made strides since the launch of the Active Design Guidelines, we have a long way to go to create communities where all people can thrive. In the next 10 years, CfAD looks forward to converging even more partners who are committed to making measurable heath impacts, and fostering engaged, equitable communities around the globe.


Joanna Frank
President & CEO
Center for Active Design

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    There are 5,300+ studies in CfAD's ever-growing research database. Photo: Queens Botanical Garden, Courtesy of BKSK Architects
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    Fitwel saw a sharp uptick in use, with 80% growth in certifications from 2017 to 2018. Photo: Commerce Court and Park Place, Courtesy of QuadReal
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    Across America, babies born just a few miles apart can have dramatic differences in life expectancy – sometimes as much as 25 years (RWJF, 2015). Photo: The Uni Project, Courtesy of Street Lab / The Uni Project
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    Healthy investments are smart investments. In 2018, the MCSI U.S. Index for ESG outperformed its non-ESG counterpart by 98 basis points (Bloomberg, 2018). Photo: Via Verde, Credit Phipps Houses, Jonathon Rose Companies, Dattner Architects, Grimshaw.