As we move through our cities each day, we make dozens of small decisions, based on dozens of small reasons. Take, for example, your decision to grab a seat because “I’ve got to shoot off this quick email and my left knee hurts.” What if the bench wasn’t there? Would your knee still hurt? And what made you choose to walk that route in the first place? The choices we make while navigating cities are influenced by subconscious factors that planners, architects and designers are beginning to mine and leverage. Some are wielding that insider knowledge to create places that will play mind tricks — to get us to make healthier decisions.
“Design professionals and developers have a real role to play in public health, and that role wasn’t understood a decade ago,” Joanna Frank, of the Center for Active Design in New York, says of the global movement in architecture and planning to encourage physical activity and to improve public health intentionally through the built environment.
In 2010, as part of a Bloomberg administration design initiative, a variety of New York City departments — from health and planning to transportation and budget — and the American Institute of Architects’ New York chapter published “Active Design Guidelines: Promoting Physical Activity and Health in Design.” The intro reads, “rather than just telling people to go the gym, public health professionals and advocates must work with architects, urban designers and planners to reverse the design trends that have contributed to declining physical activity.” […]