Affordable housing design can have a positive impact on residents’ health with minimal costs to the developer, according to a new policy brief from the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) and the Center for Active Design (CfAD).

Prospect Plaza in Brooklyn, N.Y., includes on-site and easily accessible outdoor exercise areas for residents of all ages.
Bernstein Associates Prospect Plaza in Brooklyn, N.Y., includes on-site and easily accessible outdoor exercise areas for residents of all ages.

Coined from a New York City interagency collaboration, active design is an evidence-based approach that identifies urban planning and architecture solutions to support healthy buildings. Practical active design solutions include facilities for physical activity, well-designed stairs that encourage daily use, infrastructure to support walking and biking, as well as free and low-cost programming to support resident health. (See developer Stephen Whyte’s view on incorporating active design into Vitus’ affordable housing developments.)

A pilot study conducted in the Bronx, N.Y., backs the positive effects of active design. The Icahn School of Medicine of Mount Sinai compared the health of residents at Arbor House, a 124-unit building with active design solutions, with residents in a building without those features.

Researchers found a significant increase in stair use by residents after one year of living in Arbor House. On average, 58% reported an increase in the number of flights they climbed per week.

That research will continue with the newly developed affordable housing buildings at Prospect Plaza in Brooklyn, N.Y. The Icahn School of Medicine, in partnership with CfAD, will evaluate the impact of active design on residents. Residents are invited to join the study at their lease signings, and their health and behavior before moving into the development as well as after move-in will be evaluated.

Developed by Blue Sea Development, in partnership with Pennrose Properties, Duvernay + Brooks, and Rosenberg Housing Group, Prospect Plaza will include nearly 400 housing units, a grocery store and retail space, and a community facility once completed. The development also includes the first multifamily affordable housing site to achieve Active Design Verified (ADV) certification. To be part of ADV, developers must commit to implementing active design strategies within a percentage of their portfolio and will receive training and technical assistance through the joint initiative led by CfAD and PHA.

Two of the affordable housing buildings opened last year, and residents already are talking about the impacts of the active design elements, which include raised garden beds, outdoor exercise and recreation areas, inviting, well-lit stairwells, and nearby public transportation and amenities.

The following video highlights how residents are benefitting from active design in their new community