In 2000, Ray and Sarah Victurine bought a big house on 2.5 acres of Bainbridge Island. Like most Americans, they wanted space. With a 3,000-square-foot house and vast stretches of grass, their kids and dog were allowed to run freely.
But, Ray Victurine said, his family felt isolated. There were neighbors in the distance, but the car was their primary connection to people and places—to the world beyond their home.
“This is the United States,” he said. “People don’t just drop by other people’s houses.”
So, about a year ago, the family traded it all in. They sold the house and the land, and they moved to Grow Community, a sustainable development on Bainbridge Island, about 35 minutes by ferry from Seattle. Having downsized to a 1,600-square-foot townhouse, they are surrounded by people—the community’s 24 single-family homes and 20 rental townhouse units occupy just 3 acres.
Victurine said he welcomes the density. At his old house, he said, he spent so much time maintaining the property and mowing the lawn, it left little time for anything else. At Grow, there are no front yards and residents share the community gardens.
The emphasis here is on building an old-fashioned neighborhood—the kind where neighbors know one another, kids play together, and spontaneous wine-and-cheese parties break out all the time.
“One night I come home from playing tennis, and neighbors are on the porch with my wife. Next thing you know, we’re playing Name That Tune. A bottle of wine is opened. It’s spontaneous fun,” said Victurine. “We went from being isolated to having a really nice group of people.”
Grow, and other so-called wellness communities like it, is the logical result of Americans’ shift toward sustainable lifestyles. What began with energy-efficient appliances and solar panels evolved into the green home movement—essentially improving the health of the planet—and is now expanding to encompass entire housing developments with the mission to improve the health and well-being of their residents.
How? Through architecture. Gone are the things that make us lazy and isolated—elevators, attached garages, and winding streets without sidewalks, disconnected from the outside world. In these communities, there are sidewalks, gardens, and trails, with services ranging from bike- and car-sharing to fitness classes and potluck dinners. Healthy choices are easy to make, after all, when you’re surrounded by them.
And if Grow is any measure, these wellness communities are primed for success. Grow’s first phase sold out in six months with very little advertising. Phase 2, which will expand the community to 8 acres and is expected to be completed in January 2016, is 75% reserved, said sales director Joie Olsen. It’s seeing demand for single-level homes from retiring baby boomers. Prices in wellness communities are usually higher than average, “but when you really explain monthly costs here versus the average home, it’s cheaper on a monthly basis,” said Olsen. For instance, the average electric bill is $ 8 per month, she said. It is the largest solar community in Washington. In Phase 2 of Grow, a new two- or three-bedroom, single-level home will range from $ 495,000 to $ 725,000.
In addition to Grow, the Urban Land Institute’s recent report, Building for Wellness: The Business Case, identified three other wellness communities with homes available for purchase in the U.S. Let’s take a look:
Arizona is usually associated with retirees and spa retreats, not millennials. So when developers planned Rancho Sahuarita with the intent to draw young families looking for a healthy lifestyle, surely there were skeptics. But this 3,000-acre community—with its 17 miles of bike paths and 15-acre lake, just 9 miles south of Tucson—has become a destination for concerts, art fairs, triathlons, and festivals. Homeowners can take yoga, tennis, ballet, or more than 50 other classes a week at the community clubhouse, which provides babysitting. Best of all, they’re all covered by monthly homeowner association dues of $ 93 per house.
To ensure wellness, Rancho Sahuarita partnered with Carondelet Health Network to operate a primary- and urgent-care facility within the development. Through Carondelet, local doctors offer “Walk with a Doc” and “Lunch and Learn” programs, which allow residents to ask questions they may not feel comfortable asking in a sterile doctor’s office.
Kids are a focus, too. There’s a “walking school bus” providing kids and parents the opportunity to walk everyday to the six on-site schools, and a “Be Well” summer camp offered by Carondelet. All of which has helped make Rancho Sahuarita one of the best-selling master-planned communities in the country, according to the ULI report. Home prices range from $ 220,000 to $ 350,000.
The 700-acre Mueller, built on the site of a former municipal airport just 3 miles from downtown Austin, was designed as a sustainable model of anti-sprawl. The community is tightly integrated into the surrounding neighborhoods through bike paths (at Mueller, they’re separated from auto traffic by concrete curbs) and sidewalks (shaded to provide comfort in the extreme Texas heat). Researchers from two local universities found that residents walked, biked, and exercised 40-50 minutes more per week once they moved to Mueller.
Mueller is halfway completed, and when it’s finished building in 2020, it will have more than 5,700 homes, 25% of which will be reserved for low-income households. Market-rate houses are priced from $ 150,000 to $ 1 million, while affordable units are priced from $ 125,000 to $ 210,000. What’s more, each is being constructed with low-emission materials and designed to have tiny yards and large porches, to encourage Grow-like interaction among neighbors.
What was once an eyesore in the middle of downtown Jackson, TN, has been redeveloped into a centerpiece. With the city taking the lead to transform not just the land but also the people of Jackson, 17 acres of blighted, city-owned land have been converted into a wellness-based community of walkers and joggers, renters and owners, all of whom live in the first homes to be built in that part of Jackson in 40 years.
Marketed as a return to neighborhood living, Jackson Walk is the city’s attempt to get its residents—who in 2010 had the second-highest obesity rate in the country—moving. The community is built adjacent to Lift Wellness Center, an 82,000-square-foot fitness and medical facility that functions as an anchor for the neighborhood. When Lift opened in 2013, attracting people to the nearby apartments (which rent from $ 675 to $ 1,105 per month) and single-family homes (priced around $ 120,000) was a breeze.
The upscale apartments have attracted young, mostly single professionals. Yet, because Lift is a medical center as much as it is a gym, many of its members tend to be older and retired, adding another dimension to the development.
Jackson Walk is located within walking distance of the city’s three largest employers—the county courthouse, city hall, and the Jackson Energy Authority, all of which provide free employee memberships to Lift. Also nearby are the University of Memphis’ Lambuth Campus and the West Tennessee Farmers Market.