Building Healthy Communities

Grantee Name

Center for Active Design, Inc.

Funding Area

Building Healthy Communities

Publication Date

June 2017

Grant Amount


Grant Date:

April 2016 - June 2016

Active Design is an evidence-based approach that offers practical urban planning and architecture design solutions to support healthy communities.

Active Design elements—such as stairs, supportive walking and biking infrastructure, and on-site exercise facilities—can help transform the built environment and improve the physical and mental health outcomes for residents, especially those living in affordable housing. To help integrate cost-effective Active Design strategies into affordable housing, the Active Design Verified initiative was created to train developers on incorporating design elements and amenities that will promote health.

In 2016, NYHealth awarded the Center for Active Design, Inc., (CfAD) a grant to evaluate the impact of Active Design strategies on levels of physical activity among residents moving into Prospect Plaza, a newly constructed affordable housing building with Active Design elements in Brownsville, Brooklyn (an NYHealth Healthy Neighborhoods Fund site). Specifically, the CfAD sought to gather pre-data and record health measures and physical activity levels before residents moved into the new building to establish a point of comparison for a larger evaluation effort in the future.

Outcomes and Lessons Learned

  • Collected baseline data from prospective residents of the new building in Brownsville and, for comparison, from residents in a building with a similar setting that does not have Active Design elements;
  • Found that, prior to move-in, prospective residents of the new building and residents of the comparison building reported similar levels of physical activity, rates of stair climbing, and average body mass index and waist-to-hip ratios; and
  • Developed the policy brief, “Understanding the Impact of Active Design in Affordable Housing: Insight for Policymakers and Developers.”

The brief highlights Prospect Plaza as an example of how developers and policymakers can incorporate Active Design into affordable housing. It also details findings from a pilot study in the Bronx that suggests Active Design elements have improved residents’ health.

CfAD also developed with Partnership for a Healthier America an accompanying video on the Prospect Plaza development in Brownsville and how its outdoor equipment, gardens, and access to healthy food are improving the health and wellbeing of residents.

Both the brief and video were disseminated to press outlets and shared at the 2016 Affordable Housing Finance National Conference attended by housing developers, owners, and industry leaders. CfAD also included the brief in its monthly newsletter, reaching more than 6,700 practitioners, policymakers, and community leaders worldwide. The New York Times included CfAD and the Prospect Plaza project in an July 2016 article about Active Design and the importance of designing housing to promote health.

The data collected from this project was a much-needed first step in making the case for an industrywide adoption of healthy housing. Without the availability of pre-data, CfAD would not be able to evaluate the impact of the design elements on Prospect Plaza, and findings from this study will inform a larger cost-benefit study in the future. In May 2017 Fannie Mae announced the Healthy Housing Rewards™ initiative, which provides a financial incentive for borrowers who incorporate healthy design features based on standards under CfAD’s Healthy Housing Index for newly constructed or rehabilitated affordable multifamily rental properties.

CfAD was selected as one of the winners for NYHealth’s 10th Anniversary Emerging Innovator Awards, which recognized organizations poised to make radical improvements to the state of New York’s health over the next 10 years.

In May 2016, NYHealth hosted a public discussion, “A Conversation About Design and Health,” with CfAD and Enterprise Community Partners to discuss their efforts to create healthier buildings, streets, and urban spaces.

Co-Funding and Additional Funds Leveraged: N/A