[IslanderNews.com] Can design, policy help Key Biscayne be more active? Officials say the answer is yes.

With its small size, natural beauty and health-conscious population, Key Biscayne is an ideal place for an innovative program aimed at using design to encourage active lifestyles.

Active Design Miami, a program inspired by New York City’s Active Design Guidelines, sets policy and design strategies to create healthier streets, open spaces and buildings. In Key Biscayne, it found an advocate in Village Council member Brett Moss, whose day job is an architect, general contractor and founder of MOSS Architecture + Design.

Moss, who frequently puts the Active Design standards into play for buildings his firm designs, said the Village joined several other South Florida communities earlier this year in adopting the standards as guiding principles. He would like to see that lead to development that promotes parks, outdoor activity, walking and biking, etc.

“I’m hoping that as we update our vision in Key Biscayne, we keep encouraging people to be outside and walk and bike to different places,” he said. “We should be looking at that in future policy making, zoning, codes and ordinances.”

Moss noted the Active Design philosophy focuses on parks and open spaces, development patterns, transportation and mobility. “I think it’s something that we’re always looking at in Key Biscayne anyway, so it was kind of a no-brainer for me to bring this to the Council.”

Cheryl Jacobs, executive vice president of Miami Center for Architecture and Design, which spearheads the Active Design Miami initiative, agreed Key Biscayne is the perfect place for the guidelines to play out. She applauded the Village for being an early adapter, becoming one of the first of 10 municipal governments and the Miami-Dade County government to sign on.

“Quality of life is really important in Key Biscayne, and anything a municipality can do to give residents an opportunity to have a better quality of life is a positive for that community,” Jacobs said. “Highlighting things like bike share, park access, golf cart access paths is really a quality of life issue. Key Biscayne adopted the concepts so readily, because they have already done some of these things.”

She noted that’s easier to accomplish in a small geographic location like the Key, and the Village has done a great job of promoting the goals of Active Design Miami.

“There’s a study that was done that shows if a person lives within a certain number of miles of a park, they’re more likely to walk there and use it. If the park has amenities that are more active, people use them more,” she said. “Having these concepts, even if it’s subliminal, maybe gets you out walking a little more or riding your bike or taking the stairs or one of the myriad of things.”

Moss said initiatives like the PumpTrack at 530 Crandon and the LimeBike bike sharing program are examples of existing projects that exemplify that concept.

In the future, he hopes the guidelines will lead to more parks throughout the Village and amenities at new and existing parks that serve people of all ages. Bike racks, good shading and seating, attractive landscaping, bottle refill stations for joggers, outdoor exercise equipment for seniors and different types of playground equipment for kids are all good examples, Moss said.

“We should be looking at it from all age groups,” he said. “It’s a way of getting kids and moms and dads to go out there and do something, instead of just sitting at home.

“For me, Active Design Miami is a way to get residents to be more active. Giving residents a lot of choices of what they can do actively is excellent for social networks, people meeting each other, building better families – and at the same time people are becoming healthier, and they don’t even know it. It’s not like buying a membership to the gym and getting on the treadmill.”

Jacobs said that’s a key goal Active Design Miami has for South Florida as a whole.

She was working with Village Architects several years ago when the firm opened an office in New York. She learned about New York’s active design guidelines, and thought they would work well in Miami. When she joined the American Institute of Architects, she began studying the best way to implement the guidelines in South Florida.

“When we started studying it, we realized we were so different in so many different areas that we kind of had to recreate the concept for South Florida,” she said. “We put together a wonderful advisory board made up of local officials and city staff and planners and architects, and looked at what they had in New York and came up with our own concepts and ideas.”

Jacobs explained Active Design is a series of concepts that allow designers and cities to develop buildings and public spaces in a way that creates more opportunities for healthy activity and spaces. “A lot of it is simple – put the stairs in the front and the elevator in the back,” she said. Think about how many buildings there are where you couldn’t find the stairs if you had a map.”

But by making the stairs more visible through location or signage – not only directional signs, but signs advising people how many calories they’ll burn by taking the stairs – designers might give people a gentle nudge to be more active, Jacobs said.

Ultimately, Active Design Miami came up with four areas of focus: parks and open spaces, development patterns, transportation and mobility, and buildings. Each one is highlighted in a series of educational videos on the group’s website, www.activedesignmiami.org.

“Within each of those four areas, there are strategies and policies for creating different projects,” Jacobs said.

She encouraged residents – not just designers and other professionals – to familiarize themselves with the concepts so they can push for healthier, more active spaces.

“One of the things I think is important, and why we’re trying to let not just professionals but citizens know about it, is so they will understand the ideas and communicate to elected officials how important these things are to them,” Jacobs said. “If people know about this and see its value, hopefully they will communicate that to their elected officials, and they’ll continue to add these concepts to their municipalities.”

Moss said that’s certainly his goal on the Key.

He noted Active Design guidelines don’t mandate anything, but simply provide a framework that the Village can use as it develops buildings and public spaces.

The initiatives don’t have to be complicated or costly,

“There are different things we can do just to get people more active and healthy, and we can do it through design and we can do it through policy,” he said. “As we do new designs, we should look back on it and make sure that we’re not missing something or there isn’t an idea we can add – little subtle things we should do to improve it.”

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