Four developers of master-planned communities discussed the health-related aspects of their projects during the “Legacy of Building Healthy Places” session at ULI’s Building Healthy Places conference, held in February in Los Angeles. Among the topics covered at the session—moderated by Gadi Kaufmann, managing director and CEO at the Los Angeles–based real estate advisory firm RCLCO—were costs, amenities, and best practices.
“It doesn’t cost more to include healthy amenities; you just have to allocate resources right,” said Paul Johnson, senior vice president of community development at Rancho Mission Viejo, a master-planned community in Orange County, California. That project calls for 10,000 residential units on 17,000 acres (6,900 ha), with lots of open space left for events and health-oriented amenities and infrastructure.
Recently, the developer established a multigenerational neighborhood at Rancho Mission Viejo geared toward people 55 years old or older and plans an assisted living facility there to enable residents to age in place. This project increases the focus on healthy living, establishing a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that has partnered with a local hospital to provide social and wellness programming. The project also has a 1.5-acre (0.6 ha) community garden where residents can pick fresh organic fruits and vegetables.
Randall W. Lewis, executive vice president and director of marketing for the Lewis Operating Company, which has developed planned communities throughout California and Nevada, said his company adapts to meet evolving best practices for creating sustainable, healthy living environments. “We address change at the community level,” he said, noting that all development is viewed through the lens of health and education.
Healthy amenities have changed over time, with dog parks and community gardens being added to the list, he said. “Walking and jogging trails have been the most important amenity for the past 20 to 30 years, and still are,” he said. “But the design has changed to a soft-surface trail system and greenways that used to be just pedestrian walkways but now connect to community amenities.”
In the future, developers need to share best practices with others in the industry and work with researchers to share ideas on research and teaching tools, he said.
At Rancho Sahuarita, a master-planned development near Tucson where 60 percent of the residents are under age 40, planning was undertaken with physical activity and mental wellness in mind, said Robert Sharpe, managing partner for the development.
The community features a five-acre (2 ha) lake surrounded by a park with an amphitheater, promenade, and gazebos; 15 neighborhood parks with picnic areas for socializing; a safari trail with butterfly and desert gardens; two large neighborhood parks with pools; Bark Park for pets; and a 19-mile (31 km) trail system that weaves through the community, connecting schools and parks to neighborhoods.
The community has partnered with a hospital and local wellness providers to offer health-promoting programs, Sharpe said, including walking, hiking, cycling, and running clubs; group exercise classes; children’s fitness camps and fitness classes for adults and youths; and social opportunities, such as outdoor movies and concerts, coffee socials, and community festivals.
Daniel C. Van Epp, executive vice president for Newland Real Estate Group, discussed healthy ideas implemented at the Pinehills master-planned community in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The developed area, which is home to 1,850 families, occupies just 30 percent of the 3,174-acre (1,284 ha) site, leaving 2,200 acres (890 ha) of natural open space and recreational areas. The development has formed partnerships with a local hospital to provide programming and has established more than 30 community clubs that provide opportunities for social and health-oriented activities and exercise.
Also, a 14,000-square-foot (1,300 sq m) fresh food market, cited by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health as the state’s first “healthy market,” opened in the Pinehills town center. Noting that the market attracts customers from throughout the region, Van Epp said the $6 million investment is paying for itself, with about 1,200 shoppers from throughout the region visiting daily.