ULI Partners with Colorado Health Foundation to Advance the Institute’s Building Healthy Places Initiative

Riverfront Park, Denver, Colorado

Riverfront Park, Denver, Colorado

Partnership Stems from ULI Advisory Panels Focused on Healthy Living in Three Colorado Communities

For more information, contact Trish Riggs at 202-624-7086

WASHINGTON (January 7,  2014) – The Urban Land Institute (ULI) has entered into a partnership with the Colorado Health Foundation to support the institute’s Building Healthy Places Initiative, a multi-year program that will highlight the key role of design and development in fostering healthy living and working environments.

Through the initiative, ULI is examining the built environment through the lens of health and wellness, and is showing the connection between healthy communities and economic prosperity. As ULI’s partner for work related to the initiative, the Colorado Health Foundation will participate in a variety of activities, including conferences and events, publications and research efforts, and more.

“Health-conscious development is not a new practice or trend, but an approach that strengthens community livability and sustainability. Building for health means building better communities for future generations,” said ULI Chief Executive Officer Patrick L. Phillips. “We are delighted to partner with the Colorado Health Foundation on this initiative. The Foundation’s support and wealth of knowledge on health issues will help greatly as we delve into this issue.”

“At a time when obesity and obesity-related diseases are rising, it is crucial to seek, understand and implement environmental design to make the healthy choice the easy choice. In our quest to make Colorado the healthiest state, forming partnerships from all sectors is vital to success,” said Anne Warhover, president and CEO of the Colorado Health Foundation. “As stewards of public resources, we are obligated to do our best to achieve the maximum impact possible. And we can do this by leveraging the incredible power of ULI and its membership.”

The partnership between ULI and the Colorado Health Foundation originated with three ULI Advisory Services panels convened in the spring of 2013 to recommend strategies for creating healthy living environments that increase opportunities to be physically active in three different settings – a suburb, a rural area and an urban neighborhood in Colorado. The panels, sponsored by the Foundation, offered advice on incorporating health-conscious design and development into Arvada, a community on the outskirts of Denver; Lamar, located in a remote area in the southeast part of the state; and Westwood, which spans 1.5 square miles in southwest Denver.

The communities were selected for the advisory panel assignments through a competitive request for participation process made through the Foundation’s Healthy Places: Designing an Active Colorado initiative. “These three communities are very different in terms of population and geography, but they share a commitment to build partnerships that will enable their neighbors to easily engage in daily physical activity be it for fitness, play or other activities,” Warhover said. “Research clearly demonstrates that healthy places contribute to healthy people and we are seeing an escalating demand for health-focused design. We hope that our Healthy Places initiative becomes a model that other Colorado communities can benefit from.”

The assignments of the panels, which visited the Colorado communities in March, April and May 2013, marked the first time the institute’s advisory program has focused specifically on incorporating physical activity and other health-related aspects into design and development. The panelists’ work was the first in the series of programs and activities being conducted by ULI through its Building Healthy Places Initiative, and findings and insights from the panel process were distilled into a ULI report released in November, 2013, Ten Principles for Building Healthy Places.

ULI Senior Resident Fellow Edward McMahon, who chaired all three panels, said it became immediately clear to the panelists that many of the principles of healthy design are the same ones that have long been associated with smart growth and sustainable development practices, such as those for reducing auto dependency, increasing density, improving connectivity, and mixing land uses. “Much of what goes into creating sustainable, prosperous communities also creates healthy communities,” McMahon said. “However, with this initiative, health and wellness is the intent, the designated outcome, not just an additional benefit of thoughtful design and development.

The panel process included extensive tours of Arvada, Lamar and Westwood and numerous interviews with community stakeholders representing a broad range of interests and demographics. Despite the vast geographic, social and economic differences between the three communities, several of the same issues related to healthy living were evident in all of them. In each case, the panels found that the communities have distinct characteristics and features that could be leveraged to position them as attractive places for physical and social interaction that offer options for better mobility and healthy eating. The reinvention of these communities as health-oriented could serve as a catalyst for economic growth, attracting “knowledge economy” residents who prefer active lifestyles and businesses seeking to locate in areas with a growing pool of skilled workers.

Among the findings of the three panels:

  • The existing design of buildings and streets made physical activity unnatural, difficult, and even dangerous. In each case, the panels recommended 1) the creation of an appealing destination that is walkable, and 2) ensuring that the walking routes are safe, interesting and part of a well-connected network.
  • Stakeholders in each community need to make the connection between economic development and the health of residents. This entails evaluating how to best use their amenities related to health and fitness (such as parks and sports stadiums) to catalyze business investment.
  • Creating healthy places is as much about putting in place programs and activities as it is about changing the built environment. (“It’s one thing to build a sidewalk; it’s another to get people to use it.”) For instance, the panel suggested using “walking school buses” with parents leading children on designated walking routes to school. Another suggestion: organizing exercise classes, local produce markets and community fairs to turn empty space into a gathering place.
  • While design can have a crucial influence on the health of a community’s residents, it also can affect the cultural, social, economic and environmental well-being of a community and its citizens. A growing body of research indicates that communities oriented toward healthy living choices are commanding premium real estate prices.

According to McMahon, while some of the same principles can be applied, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution for creating a healthy community. “Each community requires a unique set of solutions tailored to overcoming the community’s liabilities and taking advantage of its assets. The ultimate goal is to create a community where the healthy choice is the easy choice,” he said.

Established in 1947, ULI’s advisory service program assembles experts in all aspects of real estate and land use to make recommendations for complex planning and development projects, programs and policies. ULI panels, globally renowned for their objectivity, have developed more than 600 studies on a broad spectrum of issues ranging from mixed-income housing to military base reuse.

Complete recommendations made by the panels for Arvada, Lamar and Westwood are in the individual reports, which are available at online.

About the Urban Land Institute
The Urban Land Institute (uli.org) is a global nonprofit education and research institute supported by its members. Its mission is to provide leadership in the responsible use of land and in creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide. Established in 1936, the Institute has nearly 30,000 members worldwide representing all aspects of land use and development disciplines.   

About the Colorado Health Foundation
The Colorado Health Foundation works to make Colorado the healthiest state in the nation by increasing the number of Coloradans with health insurance, ensuring they have access to quality, coordinated care and encouraging healthy living. The Foundation invests in nonprofits, government and the private sector, engages in public policy and communicates strategically to advance our goals. For more information, please visit www.ColoradoHealth.org.