Building Places to Thrive: Incorporating Healthy Living Principles and Solutions for Homes and Communities

ULI Member-Only Content: Health is not just a trend in real estate development but an important factor that differentiates projects and benefits people and communities, Randall Lewis, ULI Foundation governor and executive vice president of Lewis Management Corp., said at a ULI Fall Meeting product council session he moderated on healthy living principles.

The “Building Places to Thrive” session included the perspectives of members of the Community Development Council, Green Flight, including Tim McCarthy, partner and managing principal at architecture and design firm Hart Howerton, and Erik Heuser, executive vice president and chief corporate operations officer for homebuilder Taylor Morrison.

McCarthy cited research from the Global Wellness Institute indicating that the wellness real estate—defined as development “aimed at helping residents stay healthy and thrive”—is now a $134 billion industry.

“We see that green building has become a given,” he said. “Now the focus must be on the people who occupy buildings. A holistic conversation on well-being requires leadership in community planning centered on alleviating long-term health concerns.”

But how can real estate leaders be strategic in advancing health-promoting efforts? McCarthy shared a set of nine community design principles created by Hart Howerton in partnership with the University of Virginia’s Center for Design and Health. The Designing for Healthy Living principles link strategies—including conserving natural vistas and promoting connections among buildings, outdoor public spaces, and recreational centers—with the healthy living outcomes they support, such as encouraging physical activity and facilitating social interaction.

McCarthy sees the current focus on healthy design principles and associated health performance metrics as part of a long line of research and thought leadership that began with Rachel Carson’s landmark 1962 book Silent Spring, which documented the harm caused by overuse of pesticides. Carson’s work is often associated with the beginning of the environmental movement in the United States, which directly influences human health, infrastructure, and real estate development.

Resources detailing how to promote health through land use and real estate have moved beyond general concepts to include evidence-based principles, such as those documented by ULI’s Building Healthy Places Initiative, which is supported by Lewis through the ULI Foundation. Health-promoting principles have also been integrated into building certification systems, like WELL and Fitwel, which provide frameworks for rating office and residential development and operations on factors that include indoor air quality, access to daylight, and physical movement.

Heuser explained the thinking behind the TM LiveWell program, a companywide promise that all future Taylor Morrison homes will include products and technologies focused on air quality, clean water, and reduced use of harmful chemicals.

“We made the commitment to implement the program across all of our homes, at all price points,” said Heuser. “Early indications are that [the focus on health] is being well received by the consumer.”

In fact, Taylor Morrison research has showed that more than one-third of homebuyers are specifically seeking newly built homes rather than resales because of the greater likelihood they will include wellness features like low–volatile organic compound (VOC) paint, touchless faucets, and air and water filtration systems. The total extra cost of these features is roughly $1,000 per home, but that cost is spread out over the term of a mortgage.

Taylor Morrison has also teamed up with the National Wildlife Federation to protect natural habitats by creating and maintaining demonstration gardens and educating residents about pollinator preservation.

Lewis said it is important that wellness-minded real estate leaders realize that the most efficient and effective healthy living initiatives all rely on cross-sector collaboration. “Partnerships are essential to moving the needle on health,” he said. “We can’t do it all by ourselves.”

Going forward, ULI will continue to foster opportunities for multisector partnerships centered on health and real estate through programs supported by a $1 million gift Lewis gave ULI in 2020. These include the ULI/Randall Lewis Health Mentorship Program, which pairs ULI members with graduate students in urban planning, architecture, and real estate to deepen their understanding of opportunities to advance health through careers in the land use industry; and the ULI Health Leaders Network, which annually empowers a select group of industry professionals with the tools to improve health outcomes in their practice and community. Learn more at uli.org/health.

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