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Strike a Chord: Urban Planners, Architects Find Ways to Get People Moving More in New York City

by Stephanie Kuo
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Stephanie Kuo, WFUV

WFUV's Strike a Chord campaign is focusing on urban health.

It may seem counterintuitive to encourage walking by building more benches. But in fact, it makes walking longer distances less daunting because you can take a break. 

That's just one example of something called "Active Design," a fairly new initiative. Its main purpose is to get people moving more.

"What's happened with our modern lifestyle is we consume far too much high-calorific food and we do very little expenditure of that energy. So there's this kind of imbalance in the energy equation."

That's David Burney. He's the Board Chair of the Center for Active Design, a non-profit organization in New York City. Since 1980, obesity rates in the United States have just about doubled. New York's seen some of the most dramatic shifts -- with nearly 25 percent of its adults now obese. Burney says in New York City specifically, city government has spent so much energy promoting healthier lifestyles through monitoring peoples' diets. But he says the burden should also fall on others.

"As architects and planners, we feel we've sort of been part of the problem in allowing ourselves to have such a sedentary lifestyle."

So at the Center for Active Design, they're working to reverse this trend. Burney says the process is low-cost and low-impact, and is as easy as putting up better lighting or music in staircases to promote their use. A major project now has been the rebuild of Times Square, which involved eliminating many traffic lanes to make the area more walkable. Burney says being healthy is really that simple.

"We're not saying everybody has to go to the gym every two minutes, we're just saying in our normal, everyday lives, we ought to be expending a bit more energy and not being so sedentary."

A set of city guidelines for active design is available for download via the Center for Active Design. NYC.gov will redirect visitors to the Center's website. 

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