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Mike Berry: Building Health and Wellness into Urbanized “Town Centers”

The walkability movement, in addition to designing for overall wellness, is here to stay as residents and employees seek convenience and access to amenities.
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It’s no surprise that people thrive on smart, creative and energizing experiences.

For decades, employers have been designing invigorating workplaces to attract the most talented job candidates, enhance productivity and to combat America’s growing obesity and chronic disease rates. A common element in many of these workplaces is the inclusion of health and wellness components. Today, we are seeing this idea evolve beyond the workplace as commercial real estate developers integrate health and wellness design features into their mixed-use developments.

Mixed-use developments which prioritize overall wellness build a sense of community, strengthen the economy and, most importantly, improve resident and worker health and happiness. This idea is reinforced by a recent Urban Land Institute study, which reported:

  • Seventy-six percent of Millennials say walkability is important in where they choose to live
  • Fifty-three percent want to be close to shops, restaurants and offices
  • Access to sunlight in office buildings increases worker productivity by 15 percent

Indeed, walkable areas are some of the most desired locations for residents and employees seeking convenience, unique experiences and access to amenities, making them highly desirable in commercial real estate. With increasing evidence of a strong correlation between walkability and commercial real estate economics, the walkability movement is here to stay.

Mariela Alfonso, in writing for the Urban Land Institute, states, “Walkability is ‘driving’ more than just demand. It is translating into real dollars and cents. In 13 of 15 major U.S. markets, an increase of one point in ‘Walk Score’ – a proxy for walkability that rates proximity to commercial destinations on a scale of one to 100 – translated into home price premiums ranging from $700 to $3,000. An increase of 10 points in Walk Score was associated with an increase of five to eight percent in commercial values.”

The designs of urbanized “town centers” have the potential to contribute substantially to health and wellness beyond just walkability. The creation of green and open spaces for relaxation, entertainment and events; thoughtfully designed and appropriately placed buildings; quality pet-friendly policies; popular retail outlets; and fresh food options will all have an extraordinary impact on community health.

This research reinforces a philosophy that Hillwood has embraced for quite some time and has integrated within each of its mixed-use projects. We believe that people want to live and work in communities that take a holistic approach to overall wellness.

One example that we’ve implemented is the 14-acre Bluestem Park at Alliance Town Center, which provides residents, visitors, students, families and employees of local businesses with walking and biking trails and public spaces, educational displays, special events and health and wellness programming.

As home to dozens of species of native grasslands and plants, 500 native trees and shrubs and diverse wildlife, Bluestem Park also embraces the land’s history and natural beauty – all with sustainability and stewardship of the land for the future in mind. Moreover, the park connects to north Fort Worth’s Arcadia Trail system, which ties neighborhoods together with the Trinity River’s tributary system.

Alliance Town Center is anchored on the north and south by a full medical district including full-service facilities and medical offices.

Hillwood’s newest North Texas development, Frisco Station, takes the integration of health and wellness into an urban type of environment. Surrounding “The Star,” the 91-acre campus that hosts the world headquarters of the Dallas Cowboys, this 242-acre project is being developed together with The Rudman Partnership and VanTrust Real Estate, and is being built on the foundation of three pillar components: smart, creative and healthy.

By supporting these three principles in every aspect of its design, Frisco Station will be programmed to attract and nurture the nation’s top brands and cutting edge talent. We believe it will be a place where people can get the most out of life while also creating economic value by attracting workers of all ages, and appealing to a skilled workforce and innovative companies.

Frisco Station has the distinction of being the first mixed-use development in North Texas to address the total “well-being” of the community and the individual. Working with the City of Frisco, we’ve designed Frisco Station to integrate office, living, shopping, dining and recreation options, unified together with a unique wellness program that anchors the community and parks, trails and gathering spaces that create places to exercise, socialize and relax. It also features more than five million square-feet of Class A office opportunities, 500,000 square feet of space earmarked for medical use and 2,400 urban-style apartments, which could house an estimated 3,450 residents.

Supported by current demographic and socioeconomic movements, market demand is undergoing major shifts in response to concerns about community health. Healthier lives are happier lives. Communities need to leverage their health advantage and re-engineer how property is developed, so they can accommodate how people live today and so they can stay relevant and competitive.

Mike Berry is president of Hillwood Properties and Hillwood Urban.

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