The American Institute of Architects (AIA) today issued a report: Local Leaders: Healthier Communities Through Design (www.aia.org/localleaders) that provides a roadmap for towns and cities looking to help their populations stay healthy by employing design techniques that encourage residents to increase their physical activity.
The report, which was released today at Governing Magazine’s “Summit on Healthy Living,” demonstrates how active lifestyles aided by positive design choices lead to a healthier population. Individuals who live in livable, mixed use communities, with options for transit - weigh less, are more physically active, and experience less chronic disease.
“Architects play a key role in designing healthy environments,” said AIA CEO Robert Ivy, FAIA. “This report shows the benefits our profession can bring to establishing a built environment that encourages exercise and discourages a sedentary lifestyle.”
Key barometers of health suggest America is heading in the wrong direction, namely toward physical inactivity, obesity, and chronic disease. Studies, highlighted in the report, demonstrate that the median improvement in some aspect of physical activity for livable urban communities can be over 160 percent. Studies also show that a community designed for exercise can prevent 90 percent of type two diabetes – as well as 50 percent of heart disease, site-specific cancers, and strokes. Better buildings and neighborhoods offer a comprehensive, cost-effective solution – as well as stimulate economic growth.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, chronic disease is now the leading cause of death and disability as a result of inadequate nutrition, lack of physical activity, and environmental pollution. The CDC estimates that three quarters of U.S. spending on health care currently goes toward treating chronic diseases. Chronic diseases are now also the leading cause of death and disability in the U.S., with 70 percent of all deaths attributed to chronic disease. Design interventions that create healthier communities can make an enormous difference in outcomes, leading to great reductions in chronic disease.
The report documents the initiatives and policy choices of some of the biggest cities in the country that have designed communities with the health of their residents in mind:
• New York City – A city-wide conversation has begun to promote healthier design through the Active Design Guidelines, Fit City conferences, and innovative urban design;
• Los Angeles – Advancing active mobility and healthier growth through living streets, public transit, and healthier community design with innovative policies and initiatives;
• Nashville – A firm commitment to become the healthiest city in the South by creating an active culture, improving access to fresh foods, and promoting healthier transportation within and across neighborhoods;
• Milwaukee – Revitalizing blighted brown fields for thriving light industry, healthier buildings, and neighborhood access to active recreation;
• Boston – Designing healthier, high-performance green affordable housing for better air quality;
• Portland – Creating communities for all ages with policy decisions that promote mobility, accessibility, and family-oriented affordable housing options;
• Austin – Developing complete, more active communities through complete streets, better neighborhood design, and health-promoting public spaces; and
• Seattle – Envisioning the future through a health-promoting EcoDistrict with healthier buildings, better mobility, improved access to fresh foods, and more social equity.
The AIA is committed to improving public health through design. Currently, there are communities that are leading this effort, and they are highlighted in Healthier Communities Through Design. Good public policy is the solution and the mobilization of community members, architects, public health officials, and others across disciplines can help create healthy communities in cities across the country. Health by design can help reduce chronic disease and offer people choices for how they live, work, and play.
In addition, the AIA’s Commitment to Action, Decade of Design, announced at the Clinton Global Initiative conference in September, highlights the power of design to positively impact public health.
About The American Institute of Architects
For over 150 years, members of the American Institute of Architects have worked with each other and their communities to create more valuable, healthy, secure, and sustainable buildings and cityscapes. Members adhere to a code of ethics and professional conduct to ensure the highest standards in professional practice. Embracing their responsibility to serve society, AIA members engage civic and government leaders and the public in helping find needed solutions to pressing issues facing our communities, institutions, nation and world. Visit www.aia.org.