Developers, architects, and city planners were challenged at a recent meeting of the Urban Land Institute to help build healthier communities and reverse the trend of shorter life expectancy among U.S. children. Members of younger generations are facing a shorter life expectancy than their parents, and some in the housing industry blame it on poor living environments.
“In the U.S., our children’s generation, my children’s generation, will be the first in U.S. history to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents, and the reason for that is the epidemic of diabetes, obesity, and chronic disease amongst our children is now outpacing our ability to make medical advances to increase life expectancy,” says Joanna Frank, president and CEO of the Center for Active Design in New York.
Speakers at the ULI meeting emphasized the need for cities to better implement wellness strategies on a broad scale. This could include greater sidewalks, more walking and biking trails, or using lower levels of volatile organic compounds in paints.
“We are interested in how we can influence activities and the way housing is built in the middle, in the broader marketplace,” says Rachel MacCleery, head of the Urban Land Institute’s Building Healthy Places Initiative. “How can some of these lessons from affordable housing and, potentially, from some of the higher-end projects being built be applied to market-rate housing?”
Seventy-one percent of renters say they would like to live in a community that promotes health, such as one with walking paths, sidewalks, and trails, according to a survey by McGraw Hill. However, only 16 percent of developers surveyed say they factor this into building considerations.
Health-focused developments can fall into two broad categories: environmental and behavioral. With environmental developments, builders could offer greater access to outdoor space and natural light for tenants, and city planners could put more priority on parks with extensive trail networks. With behavioral developments, cities and builders could promote greater use of paints with low levels of volatile organic compounds, greater fresh food access, and active lifestyles, like sidewalks and self-contained communities that promote walking.
“We’re really looking at all aspects of our built environment,” Frank says. “We’re looking at neighborhood-scale interventions as well as individual building interventions as well as the elements within a building, really looking at how do you provide an environment that optimizes behavior because we know that it’s behavior that impacts your risk of chronic disease, mental health issues, as well as life expectancy.”
A government-created certification system for health-minded construction is called Fitwel. It’s a point-based, three-star system that measures how well buildings promote physical activity and healthy lifestyle choices. Fannie Mae is offering a 15-basis point reduction on new construction and rehabilitation loans for projects that meet Fitwel’s requirements through its Healthy Housing Rewards initiative.
“There is a change taking place in the relationship between health, wellness, and the built environment,” says Howard Schlesinger, founding partner of Meridian Development Partners, who has been involved in ULI’s Building Healthy Places initiative. “All generations recognize the value of living healthier lives and creating environments that support that lifestyle.”
Source: “Developers Urged to Build Healthy Projects to Reverse Shorter Life Expectancy Trend,” Real Estate Weekly