9/11/2015 | Posted at 8:49 pm

Designing Healthy, Active Communities

Communities around the world and locally face pressing health challenges associated with the intersection of health and the built environment. While our genetics and access to quality health care are important factors for our health, our environment and behavior choices significantly affect our health. Aside from our personal transportation and food choices, our built environment and land use choices directly influence the health of our families and communities.

Health and well-being have long been pillars of sustainable design at a variety of scales: material selection; design elements to promote active transportation; and connectivity at the neighborhood & infrastructure scale. As we strive to create high performance projects that strengthen the local economy, enhance the quality of life in all our communities, and protect the environment, health is increasingly the lens through which we are evaluating neighborhood investments.

Promoting health and well-being starts with complete, connected neighborhoods.


The Center for Active Design: 2014 Excellence Award recognizes the key role that design plays in addressing obesity and chronic disease, with each winning project exemplifying the implementation of Active Design guidelines.

The Center for Active Design: 2014 Excellence Award recognizes the key role that design plays in addressing obesity and chronic disease, with each winning project exemplifying the implementation of Active Design guidelines.

Greenbridge is a 100-acre HOPE VI community development that replaced existing 1940’s era housing with a varied mix of housing types and open spaces. The end result is a culturally diverse neighborhood with services at its heart and an innovative network of open spaces, parks, pocket parks and trails that encourage exploration. The Greenbridge Master Plan represents a truly walkable community that encourages healthy activities and eschews car dependency.

CHECD graphic 2Capitol Hill EcoDistrict

In 2011, the Bullitt Foundation awarded Capitol Hill Housing a grant to spearhead the creation of a new “EcoDistrict” on Capitol Hill, in the hopes of leveraging community action, upcoming development, and the efficiencies of district-scale systems to build a high-performing, socially vibrant, and equitable neighborhood. GGLO was brought on board to kick-start this community-driven effort to make Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood a national model for environmental sustainability and community health.

CHED thumbCapitol Hill EcoDistrict, Full Report with Appendices (15MB PDF)

Capitol Hill EcoDistrict, Report without Appendices (10MB PDF)

Capitol Hill EcoDistrict, Executive Summary Only (1MB PDF)

local leaders SMALLLocal Leaders: Healthier Communities Through Design (3 MB PDF)


An important aspect of encouraging healthy behavior occurs at the site scale. Projects have the opportunity to promote physical activity while connecting people to where they live, work and play.

The inspiration for Via6 is grounded in the desire for a new, vibrant standard of urban residential life in downtown Seattle. Via6, the largest private residential development built in one phase in Seattle’s history, has begun the transformation of an area that had little street life or pedestrian oriented uses to connect South Lake Union with the Retail Core. Located at the edge of several evolving districts, the team worked to create a setting for an authentic community, with a vibrant mix of street-level uses, restaurants and leisure spaces mixed seamlessly with residential amenities to frame a complete residential experience.The two-tower development rises above a seven-story base with frontage along the full length of the block. Street level uses include restaurants, a pub and a café, an urban grocer, flower shop, and a bicycle shop. These uses are permeable and open in to the streetscape, and connect to an interior “market street”, blending with residential amenities. The ViaBike bicycle club amenity offers locker rooms, showers, and secure storage with convenient alley access. It is managed by the bicycle shop and promotes bikability for residents and the greater downtown.

Building for Wellness SMALLBuilding for Wellness: The Business Case by ULI (4 MB PDF)


bridges UPDATEBridges@11th is a newly developing, transit-oriented, housing development in the heart of the University District in Seattle. Driven by the workforce housing needs of the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Hospital, who sought housing within walking and biking distance, the project aims to foster a vibrant community within its walls and provide connections for its residents to the immediate neighborhood. To that end, the primary planning feature is the division of the project program into three compact and completely freestanding buildings with permeable street-like connections between them. These permeable spaces bring together the street frontage and a currently underutilized alley, making it more walkable and activity-friendly. By using new design elements such as enlivened street edges, through-block open spaces, integrated art, and rooftop trail that connects each building, Bridges@11th hopes to become a lively home with ample opportunities for physical activity for many and an asset to the Roosevelt and University District neighborhoods.

Bridges@11th was designed with close attention to NYC’s Active Design Guidelines. A detailed case study is available at: Center for Active Design – Promoting Health Through Design.


Transparency of ingredients is an important component of healthy material selection. Green building rating systems such as LEED and Living Building Challenge focus on materials to improve builder and occupant health. In an effort to improve the building industry’s environmental and health performance, GGLO recently requested product manufacturers provide transparency of building product content and associated health information through the use of a Health Product Declaration.


Policy makers, design professionals, the development community, and health professionals are active stakeholders in the discussions that concern the intersection of health and the built environment. Additional resources area available from these groups such as:

Health and built environment professionals are working to define what makes a healthy community through metrics, research, and quantifying health benefits. As the definition develops, guiding principles for designing healthy, active communities can be described as:

  • People-Centered Design: Design for people through material selected, at the building & site scale, and within the neighborhood. A healthy community is one where basic needs and recreation opportunities are accessible on foot or bike and is not dependent on the automobile.
  • Placemaking: Embrace the unique character of a place to cultivate cultural vibrancy in the public realm to inspire and support community cohesion, health and well-being.
  • Variety: Provide a range of options – from scale of activity – to program, such as mixed-use and mixed-income developments. Through diversity of programming and strong relationships with adjacent uses, activate place with supporting uses to make activities safer and accessible for the greatest variety of people.
  • Connectivity & Active Design: Increase connectivity within a project, provide active recreation and conspicuously placed circulation opportunities. Promote active transportation such as pedestrian and bicycle networks, and public transportation through amenities.
  • Equity: Engage stakeholders throughout the community to benefit the broadest spectrum of people of all incomes, abilities, and ages.
  • Access to Healthy Foods: Productive open space, gardens and smart project siting can positively influence healthy behaviors.

GGLO Team:

Alicia Daniels Uhlig NCARB, Director of Sustainability, Principal
Dave Cutler NCARB, AIA, Principal
Kimberly Frank IIDA, Principal
Marieke Lacasse ASLA, CSLA, Principal