• Health depends on lifestyle choices, education, and income, as well as healthcare.
  • The built environment can encourage well-being by providing access to physical activity, healthy food, and social connections.
  • Healthy communities add value and perform better in the marketplace.
  • Trails, sidewalks, front porches, and programmed activities encourage activity for youth.

At a panel at the ULI Fall Meeting in Chicago, Anne Warhover, president and chief executive officer of the Colorado Health Foundation (CHF), noted that 90 percent of overall health depends on factors other than healthcare, such as lifestyle choices, education, and income. Warhover urged ULI members to promote healthy lifestyles by “making the healthy choice the easy choice” with a built environment that provides access to healthy activities and foods. “We need the private sector—that’s really the only way to make healthy lifestyles and places sustainable.”

A CHF grant helped fund the design of the 100-unit Tapiz apartments at Mariposa, a Denver Housing Authority mixed-income community under construction. Healthy design “hardware” includes an attractive staircase that encourages tenants to bypass the elevator. “The software component is around healthy food,” she said, with a community garden, cooking classes, a café, and a culinary job-training program.

Master-planned communities typically include amenities like walking trails and parks, said Todd Mansfield, president and CEO of Crescent Communities, LLC. But what’s not often incorporated is social well-being: “The social part is critical as the software of a community.” As president of Disney’s Celebration Company, Mansfield, a former ULI chairman, led development of the 5,000-acre town of Celebration near Orlando, Florida, designed for active and social living. Celebration properties sell for about $30 more per square foot than comparable communities, he said, so “there’s no question it adds value.”

At Willowsford, a master-planned community under construction in Loudoun County, Virginia, half of the 4,000 acres is preserved conservation land with trails. The community plan focuses on an organic farm. “We didn’t set out to develop a healthy community,” but access to growing healthy food quickly became a key factor in drawing residents, said Laura Cole, vice president for Boston-based developer, Corbelis. She said the farm, which includes a market stand, community-assisted-agriculture program, and education and social events, has “differentiated us in the D.C. market.”

“There are ways to be creative and pack healthy food access into smaller sites,” said Colleen Carey, president of the Cornerstone Group in Richfield, Minnesota. Examples include rooftop gardens, edible landscapes in shopping centers, and competitions for growing vegetables up the side of buildings.

Richard Albrecht, principal of Lattice Properties LLC in Park City, Utah, has developed and managed facilities such as the Miraval Resort and Spa in Tucson, a destination resort promoting health and a balanced lifestyle. The resort experience is about selling a lifestyle dream, he said, with luxurious spa facilities in which hotel guests are pampered and introduced to activities like meditation and yoga. Healthy lifestyles have been more successful with residents who use the facilities as a sports club and enjoy working out every day.

Mansfield said planning and designing safe outside places where kids can ride bikes and play is critical to getting them moving. Cole noted that front porches make people feel more comfortable, and programmed activities like running clubs encourage kids to use trails. Ed McMahon, a ULI senior fellow, suggested “walking school buses,” bicycle trains, and smarter school locations can encourage kids to walk or bike to school.

For more on ULI’s Building Healthy Places Initiative, go to uli.org/health.

Kathleen McCormick, principal of Fountainhead Communications, LLC in Boulder, Colorado, is the principal author of ULI’s new publication, Intersections: Health and the Built Environment.