One of the latest trends in public infrastructure opportunities is projects that tackle the national health crisis; the industry buzzword for this is active design. According to the Center for Active Design it "is an approach to the development of buildings, streets and neighborhoods that uses architecture and urban planning to make daily physical activity and healthy foods more accessible and inviting." An article written by Stephen Stanley for, highlighted seven projects selected to receive the Center for Active Design’s “inaugural prize for their ability to encourage physical activity and active use of space.” Buckingham County Elementary School in Dillwyn, Virginia was one of the winners. The building has a food lab lounge and teaching kitchen that allows for hands-on nutrition learning and outdoor spaces such as a grab-n-go farm for direct from plant snacking.

Buckingham County Elementary School Buckingham County Elementary School in Dillwyn, Virginia / VMDO Architects

Looking into Onvia’s database of state and local contracting activity, we found three leading trends relating to active design implementation: building design, multi-modal transportation and community gardens.

Designing Buildings to Encourage Physical Activity

The first trend involves renovating existing buildings or designing new buildings to promote more physical activity in traditionally sedentary environments. Some of the most common elements of active design in buildings encourage stair usage, on-site play spaces and social gatherings in central areas.

Award Salco Construction

In the borough of Queens, New York residents are anxiously awaiting the opening of the new Elmhurst branch library. The 31,000 square foot building is on track to receive a LEED Silver rating and implements many active design elements including a main stair case customized with artwork, stair signage to increase usage, and a nearby playground. Stalco Construction was awarded the $19 million contract to construct the project that when finished will be the second busiest branch of the Queens library system.

Transforming Modes of Transportation

Thinking of creative ways to utilize the physical space occupied by obsolete modes of transportation is another tactic that communities use to implement active design into their urban planning. One example of this is that communities are beginning to realize the potential of railroad tracks that are no longer in operation. By converting these coveted rail corridors into walking and biking trails, also known as "rails-to-trails," municipalities are able to encourage active modes of transportation.

In Volusia County in Florida there is an initiative to build a rail-trail that will one day stretch for 52 miles. Though portions have been completed there is still a lot of activity regarding future extensions to the rail-trail. Tomoka Construction Services was recently awarded a contract for $970,000 to build out the third phase of the trail extension which includes a parking lot and bicycle rack installation.

Award Tomoka Construction Services

Incorporating Wellness and Nutrition in Communities

There are many ways that communities are incorporating elements of active design into already existing structures, an area where this is very apparent is schools. Similar to the Buckingham County Elementary School mentioned earlier, a recent piece in the Denver Post by Colleen O’Connor reports that local school districts in Colorado are joining the “growing national movement” by designing functional gardens to bring fresh produce to the students. O’Connor writes, “Experts say the trend is rooted in a convergence of events: the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 that targeted childhood obesity; new USDA nutritional requirements that fruits and vegetables be served daily at school lunches; and the growth in consumer demand for foods grown locally.”

Award Salt Laker Community College

At the Salt Lake Community College Eccles Early Childhood Development Lab a recent bid for the construction of a multi-purpose community garden and playground echoes this growth of encouraging wellness and nutrition in schools. When completed the space will encourage children to be physically active, include a garden for access to healthy snacks and act as a space for community involvement. The estimated value of this award is $120,000.

The trend of active design does not appear to be slowing. In the upcoming years we expect this trend to grow as prioritizing health and wellness becomes more and more of a desirable factor in urban planning. If you’ve seen examples of active design in your community, leave a comment below.