Note: This article complements the BHP Breakfast Series presentation on Friday, June 30: LEEDing Houston into the future: Sustainable Design and Community Health.
Author: Adele Houghton, Biositu, LLC
Health and wellbeing are increasingly thought of in the real estate sector as synonymous with high quality construction. As a result, market forces have begun to reward developments that incorporate Building Healthy Places (BHP) principles. The most recent example of this trend in Houston is Springwoods Village, a 1,800-acre master planned, mixed-use community developed by Coventry Development Corporation.
Located in the northwest quadrant of the I-45 N/Grand Parkway intersection, at build-out Springwoods Village will include 9 million square feet of office, medical, retail, and civic space; as well as 5,000 residential units accommodating 12,000-15,000 residents in a mix of apartments, townhomes, and single family homes.
Ten of the 21 strategies from the ULI Building Healthy Places Toolkit are under construction or already in place at Springwoods Village, representing all three topic areas: physical activity, healthy food and drinking water, and healthy environment and social wellbeing. Additional strategies may be addressed in future development phases or in individual buildings on the property.
The master plan calls for a mix of office space, health care, retail, recreational and residential areas, including a playground and more than 290 acres of publicly accessible parks with six park corridors. All of these will be connected to each other and to the adjacent greenway via sidewalks and biking trails. Pedestrian/cyclist bridges and underpasses will increase the speed and safety of non-motorized transportation in the community. The 150-acre nature preserve will connect to the Spring Creek Greenway, a linear park connecting 12 parks and nature preserves along a 40-mile stretch of Spring Creek.
All occupants can take advantage of the extensive network of walking and cycling trails for recreational exercise. But, residents who work in Springwoods Village will have the added opportunity of using their commute to accomplish their daily exercise goals, as well.
Given that close to 65% of adults in Houston/Harris County are overweight or obese and that heart disease is the leading cause of death in our area, Springwoods Village has made an important contribution to public health by embedding opportunities for physical activity throughout the community.
Related BHP Toolkit Strategies
- Incorporate a mix of land uses
- Provide sidewalks and enticing, pedestrian-oriented streetscapes
- Provide infrastructure to support biking
- Provide high-quality spaces for multigenerational play and recreation
- Build play spaces for children
Healthy Food and Drinking Water
Healthy eating habits are the other half of the equation for reducing the risk of heart disease and obesity. A full-service Kroger anchoring The Market at Springwoods Village will make locally grown fruits and vegetables readily available to everyone in the community – workers and residents alike. The emphasis on healthy foods is welcome in a region where fruit and vegetable consumption has been in decline. In 2013, only 14.5% of adults in Houston/Harris County ate the recommended number of servings per day.
Related BHP Toolkit Strategy
- Accommodate a grocery store
Healthy Environment and Social Wellbeing
The majority of office, retail, and residential spaces in Springwoods Village are pursuing LEED certification, which rewards projects enhancing healthy indoor air quality (IAQ). Buildings with healthy IAQ can reduce asthma triggers, resulting in both health and societal benefits. For example, asthma is a leading cause of school absenteeism in the US. And, in Texas, 24% of children have been diagnosed with the disease at some point in their lives (2013 YRBS).
Two amenities also support the social wellbeing recommendations in the BHP Toolkit. CityCenter Plaza and Park will build a sense of community by hosting both informal gatherings of office workers and residents as well as planned events in the plaza, green space, and outdoor amphitheater. Likewise, the dog park in Spring Grove Park will encourage community engagement among animal lovers. All of these outdoor spaces will be connected with each other through the network of dedicated hike and bike trails that feed into the on-site nature preserve and the Spring Creek Greenway described above.
By providing access to nature and opportunities for social engagement, the Springwoods Village master plan addresses an often overlooked aspect of health and wellbeing: mental health. Adults in Houston/Harris County reportedly suffered an average of 3.4 days per month of poor mental health in 2015. This number falls in between the lower Texas-wide average of 3.0 days and the higher national average of 3.7 days. Hopefully, the occupants of Springwoods Village will take advantage of the opportunities provided by the civic spaces and nature trails to enhance both their physical and mental health and wellbeing.
Related BHP Toolkit Strategies
- Use materials and products that support healthy indoor air quality
- Increase access to nature
- Facilitate social engagement
- Adopt pet-friendly policies