The coronavirus pandemic has firmly demonstrated how our health and wellness are intrinsically linked to our and the broader built environment. Investors, developers and builders are awakening to wellness real estate as consumers increasingly seek out healthy homes and communities. However, the connection between wellness real estate and wellness communities is not automatic.
Creating and strengthening this connection requires an intention to do so, coupled with design and operational principles that may not be typical from a conventional real estate perspective. In the GWI research report Build Well To Live Well, the authors identified four pillars through which wellness real estate can have a transformative impact in fostering wellness communities:
From “do no harm” to optimizing wellness
Beyond just reacting to “sick buildings,” we must intentionally build homes that help us optimize our health and wellness.
Scientific evidence is increasingly demonstrating that conventional building standards and materials can make our indoor environment extremely unhealthy and toxic, even before COVID-19 risks. At a minimum, wellness real estate must protect us from harmful elements both indoors and outdoors, such as filtering out contaminants in our air and water, and avoid building materials and substances that emit toxic chemicals. Wellness real estate should also incorporate elements that help residents optimize their health in terms of sleep, vitality, mood, mental health and more—such as sound- and light-proofing, maximizing natural light, increasing exposure to nature, using circadian lighting, and incorporating technologies to monitor and optimize indoor air quality. Improving our health must be the basic design principle in a true wellness community.
From passive to active wellness
Our built environment should encourage proactive behaviors and habits that drive wellness.
Wellness requires self-responsibility and active participation to take charge of our own health. A home that is only designed for its residents to passively “take in” wellness by supplying purified air, filtered water, circadian lighting, sound-proofing and greenery is not sufficient to deliver an optimal wellness experience. Wellness real estate should also encourage its residents to actively behave in ways that promote holistic health, such as walking and cycling as transport, exercising regularly, gardening and composting, keeping a pet, socializing with neighbors, and participating in community activities. It is from this active engagement and participation that residents will truly feel that they connect with one another in a wellness community.
From hardware to software
Hard infrastructure needs supporting policies, management and programming to foster a wellness community.
By definition, real estate means buildings and structures that are largely static. A wellness community, in contrast, is a dynamic organism. “Hardware” such as building and neighborhood design, materials and technologies can lay the groundwork, but appropriate soft infrastructure is needed to bring a wellness community to life and to nurture it. Such “software” may include policies (e.g., non-smoking, recycling); programming (e.g., fitness/wellness classes; arts, culture, and music programs; car/bike sharing; family and children’s events; farmers market); communications (e.g., community intranet or portal); and active leadership and management (e.g., community wellness director).
From “me” to “we”
It is by connecting with others and with something larger than ourselves that we become a wellness community.
The most important link between wellness real estate and wellness community is the ability of residents to project wellness from their bubble (the “me” perspective) to the larger “we.” In a real community, people are aware of their connections to others; that their choices and lifestyles have a broader impact on the environment and the people around them; and that they have a voice in the community and can influence the wellbeing of others. There must be elements in the planning and design that address the broader, non-individualist aspects of wellness, such as the environmental, social and economic dimensions of wellness. This broader awareness has become all the more crucial in the context of the pandemic and social justice awakening.
See the GWI report Build Well to Live Well: Wellness Lifestyle Real Estate and Communities for more information on the critical role that the built environment plays in supporting both natural movement and recreational physical activity.