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 by Teri Slavik-Tsuyuki, Principal, tst ink, LLC and Co-Chair Wellness Communities & Real Estate Initiative, Global Wellness Institute   

Nobody invented wellness. As the chaos and disruption of the global health pandemic of the past few years waned into an endemic, health is the new wealth. Our wellness is the new “why” and a true purchase motivator – a key factor in where, what, and whether customers today choose to buy or rent a home. And those of us involved in creating the spaces and places where people live their lives have a major opportunity to make a major impact. According to the Global Wellness Institute (GWI), 85% of health outcomes are determined by the built environment. The global wellness economy now stands at $5.6 trillion, with the Wellness Real Estate sector increasing 22% on average annually – the fastest of all sectors measured by the GWI – and today valued at $398 billion globally.

Wellness communities can be defined as “built environments proactively designed to support the holistic health of those who live, work, play, or learn there.” This goes far beyond providing a spa, a community garden, or measuring indoor air quality, to thinking more purposefully about all the elements of where we live, how we live, how we move, places for socializing, and places that stimulate our senses.

There are many excellent, research-backed healthy building systems that rely on rigorous certifications and measurement that are gaining traction today. Most of them take a systems-based approach to the physical infrastructure. The Wellness Communities & Real Estate Initiative takes a people-focused approach that targets various domains that collectively impact human wellbeing – social, physical, mental, environmental, economic, and civic. And within each of those domains, there are several “ingredients” developers and place makers should consider to create places that support this holistic sense of wellbeing.

Wellness in Communities and Real Estate


According to the World Health Organization, global prevalence of anxiety and depression has increased by 25% since the pandemic, bringing mental and emotional health and wellbeing into the daily conversation. The effects of the pandemic on our physical health, and our human need for social connections are obvious, while the effects on financial wellbeing, coupled with the current interest rate environment are also a challenge.  The America at Home Study uncovered specific behaviour changes in how people live in their homes, including what they say is missing, the most important rooms in the homes, new rituals, and what matters most in community and neighborhood amenities. In wave 3 of the America at Home Study, 83% of respondents said physical wellness was “very important” to them, but only 49% said they were “very satisfied” with their level of physical wellbeing. That is a 34% delta between the level of importance and level of satisfaction with physical wellness, which presents a huge opportunity for developers to design, create and activate places to support this. Similar gaps exist in financial wellness, and both mental and emotional wellness, revealing the human need for connection and mental stimulation.

With a commitment and a focus to lean into wellness, developers can think about all the domains of wellness as variable elements, like musical notes on a mixing board. Not all will be present to the same degree in every wellness community, like not all notes are played at the same volume in every piece of music. But how you apply them in each unique market, product, and context can proactively create places that make people’s lives healthier.

That framework is concise, clear, and simple to follow, no matter the asset class, location, or size. Wellness communities are:

Intentional. They are created on purpose from the beginning and at every stage of development with the intention of improving people’s lives and wellbeing.

Scalable. They are not relegated to large luxury resorts, but have a demonstrable impact at all scales, from a small urban in-fill neighborhood to an office park, to a large master planned community.

Focused. They are focused on the value created in the tangible meaningful things that improve people’s lives.

Contextual. They are not “one size fits all” – they respond to the local and appropriate context with solutions that have the greatest and longest lasting impact.

Activated. They are planned and programmed – not passive – with iterative thinking that never stops, and lives and breathes in inclusive, engaging spaces and dynamic activities.

Respectful. They have an ear to the past and an eye to the future – the piazza inspires town squares, social connectivity and placemaking.

Chiharu Shiota, a Japanese performance, and installation artist educated in Japan, Australia, and Germany writes, “Our first skin is human skin. Clothes make up our second skin. If so, then isn’t our third skin made up of our living spaces – the walls, doors and windows that surround the human body?” That “third skin” is proving to be critical, and more understood by consumers today than ever before. And it’s an opportunity for developers to do what you have done best for years, create better places for people.


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