• Finances must work for building healthier places.
  • Focus message on the benefits up front–healthy environment and sustainability.
  • Leverage existing physical assets, such as downtown location, and enhance as needed.

Moderator Tim Sullivan, practice leader for Meyers Research LLC, a Kennedy Wilson Company, in Rancho Santa Fe, California, led a session at the ULI Fall Meeting in Chicago with these questions: What do healthy communities look like? What are the components? Can you build them from scratch?

Grow Community, an eight-acre pocket neighborhood with 132 net-zero-energy homes that is under construction on Bainbridge Island, Washington, did not begin as a healthy community effort, recalled Marja Preston, president of Grow Community Bainbridge/Asani. Focus groups and workshops informed the developers that their ideal infill development would feature walkability, health, and safe places for kids. The emphasis on a sustainable lifestyle and social connection naturally translated to a healthier lifestyle, said Preston.

The completed first phase put all parking for 44 homes on the perimeter. Residents walk through a community garden to get to their cars. “People are often in boxes–their house, car, and office–and this forces people out of the box and into the neighborhood,” said Preston. Grow Community quickly sold the first 20 homes without marketing and multiple listing services, and rented another 24 units without garages, even though parking was up to 150 feet away.

Leroy Moore, senior vice president and chief operating officer of the Tampa Housing Authority, discussed how Encore Tampa, a 28-acre distressed public housing site in the downtown core, is being transformed into 12 city blocks of mixed-income and mixed-use neighborhood development currently in line for LEED-ND Gold certification. The street names reflect the rich heritage of the site, where jazz artists including Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington performed in music halls. “We knew we had something to market and could brand this site, to overcome its previous image,” said Moore. “It’s being marketed as healthy, wealthy, and wise development.”

The Tampa Housing Authority, city of Tampa, and the Bank of America Community Development Corporation are using $28 million in U.S. Department of Housing Neighborhood Stabilization Program 2 funding for public infrastructure improvements. Encore Tampa will feature 1,300 homes, including 449 new affordable housing units, a 10‐acre park, a new middle school, a grocery store, an African-American museum, restaurants, a hotel, office space, and other businesses.

Jeremy Newman Sharpe, vice president of community development for Rancho Sahuarita, a master-planned community in Tucson with 15,000 homes in the $200,000 to $250,000 range, partnered with a health network in Arizona to offer programs such as a free one-mile “Walk with the Doc,” around a nearby lake.  Some residents may not know much about healthy eating, so the community’s health and wellness employees started cooking classes and are measuring health improvements. Sharpe says some people have lost up to 100 pounds by exercising in a spin class and healthier eating habits.

Rancho Sahuarita also offers health lectures by pediatricians, health and education information for parents while kids play at free sports camps, and 33 fitness classes per week at the fitness club. “It’s become a social environment,” Sharp said. Partnering with the health network and schools, he says, also has helped the community afford the health and education programming.

“We’ve combined extreme sustainability in a net-zero community that also focuses on health,” notes Preston. “There were no comps.” Pricing homes high, she said, would have excluded young families. “Our investors wanted us to make a profit, but also to create an innovative sustainable project, with homes under $300,000, and we had to give and take to get there.”

For more on ULI’s Building Healthy Places Initiave, 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.