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The wellness movement is about to transform real estate

Fresh research into the global wellness real estate and communities sector finds the market will grow to US$180 billion by 2022, with Australia the third largest market behind the US and China.

On 24 January, The Global Wellness Institute (GWI) released its much-anticipated report Build Well To Live Well, the first research to size and analyse the global and regional wellness lifestyle real estate and communities market. 

The 150-page report finds that real estate and communities that intentionally put people's health at the centre of design, creation and redevelopment are the next frontier in residential real estate. 

The research finds the global market is growing fast: over 6 per cent a year from 2015-2022. 

The potential for this sector is huge, given that consumer demand for healthy homes is outstripping supply. In the US, for example, there are an astonishing 1.3 million potential buyers each year but with a pipeline of 355 projects – and that pipeline leads the world.

Australia comes in second with 189 projects in the pipeline and third in the world for the size of our wellness real state market, which according to the GWI report is $9.5 billion. This figure is based on the construction of residential property that incorporate intentional wellness elements. 

But what exactly are these? And what does wellness have to do with real estate?

"Our existing built environment has a massive and increasingly negative impact on our physical and mental health," GWI senior researcher Ophelia Yeung said. "We will never address skyrocketing chronic disease and health costs without dramatically transforming where and how we live.

"We've got to shift investment into the places that give us the most outsized health returns…our homes and communities."

GWI predicts that seven emerging wellness living concepts will drive future development - and push this market to the next level.

1. Blurring the lines between home, work, and leisure

Strategic co-location and integration of homes, co-working facilities, and ample wellness programming (in both cities and suburbs), all in response to the rapid rise of remote and freelance work, the sharing economy, and mounting issues of loneliness and work/life balance. 

Example: WeWork's movement into co-living (WeLive) and wellness (Rise by We).

2. Making healthy homes affordable

Contrary to the belief that wellness real estate is only for the rich, GWI believes developers will increasingly collaborate with governments to bring more wellness-infused residences to lower-income populations who are at the highest risk for many health conditions. 

Examples: The Center for Active Design (US); Via Verde (South Bronx, NY) is an affordable "well" community integrating everything from low-VOC materials to improve indoor air quality, design encouraging walking, green roofs with community gardens, a fitness centre, and ample community spaces, including an amphitheatre.

3. Bringing back multigenerational and diverse neighbourhoods

GWI is confident that more wellness real estate projects will cater to people seeking communities with a much greater diversity of ages, life stages and social classes — recognising that segregation is unhealthy and that real-world (and not age-segregated) social connections are essential for our wellbeing and society. (For instance, many Baby Boomers reject the idea of living only with other older people as boring.) 

Examples: more wellness communities like The Interlace (Singapore) are integrating senior homes and assisted living with mixed-age/family-friendly neighbourhoods… so all can "age in place." More wellness developments will combine senior and college student housing, like Humanitas, the Netherlands.

4. Catalysing medical industry clusters and health services to build wellness communities

According to GWI, more world-class wellness communities will be created by combining a geographic concentration of cutting-edge medical industry companies and research organisations (the economic concept of "industry clusters"); a concentration of high-quality hospitals and health services for consumers; and holistically-designed wellness-focused homes and neighbourhoods. 

Examples: Lake Nona (Florida) is anchored on more than a dozen world-class research hospitals, medical centres, human performance and sports training facilities, and technology companies clustered around its wellness-focused homes. Serenbe's (Georgia) new Mado hamlet is on the cutting edge by integrating an impressive array of alternative, preventive, and healthy lifestyle services in its thriving residential neighbourhood.

5. Moving from green to regenerative living

Moving beyond green building certifications to create innovative, regenerative residential communities of green, biophilic, sustainable and healthy design – that will produce their own healthy food and renewable energy, clean the air, recycle their water, and be net positive for people and the planet. 

Examples: various projects in development in China and Europe take green, biophilic and healthy design to the next level, like the Liuzhou Forest City and Moganshan 1,000 Trees projects in China, and Italy's Bosco Verticale towers, which cover entire buildings and cities with plants and trees to improve air quality, biodiversity and renewable energy. The ReGen Villages being piloted in the Netherlands go a step further by combining sustainable and biophilic design with off-the-grid, self-sufficient energy and organic food production.

6. Leveraging technologies to create smart-healthy homes and cities

GWI highlights that more projects will harness futuristic technologies – including advanced telemedicine, smart homes, sensors, artificial intelligence, etc. – to bring state-of-the-art on-demand wellness into homes, neighborhoods and cities. More model city projects will showcase futuristic energy and green technologies (like China's Tianjin Eco-city, Energy City Qatar, Abu Dhabi's Masdar City). But the next wave will put health/wellness technology front-and-centre, like The Connected City project (Tampa, FL) where highest-tech wellness spans self-driving cars, telemedicine, smart home technologies, virtual learning, the first Crystal Lagoon in the US, a hospital with a medi-spa and a health/performance institute.

7. Rediscovering hot springs as a wellness living anchor

Finally, the authors of the report suggest that more wellness residences will revolve around natural thermal and mineral springs (both primary and vacation homes) as people rediscover the therapeutic benefits of communal bathing. 

Examples: In Europe, there is immense opportunity to redevelop historic spa towns as holistic wellness communities, like Kemeri Park in Latvia, which is renovating a Soviet-era health resort/thermal bathing facility to regenerate the nearby village following wellness community design principles. At California's Goco Retreat Temascal Valley, residences are now being built with the redeveloped Glen Ivy Hot Springs as their anchor (opening 2019).

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