ULI Fall Meeting 2013 Dispatch I – Good Urbanism and Healthier Communities

This week I am attending the ULI Fall Meeting in Chicago, and I’ll be posting on what I’ve learned here….

What is the link between health and development? Here at the 2013 ULI Fall Meeting in Chicago several sessions are trying to address it. Marilyn Taylor moderated a panel that included Ron Terwilliger, Peter Calthorpe and Bart Harvey, and she indicated that we can all identify the answers, but how do we develop our cities differently to be healthier and how do we institutionalize and monetize it?

Perhaps the first place to look is the affordable senior housing market. I attended a conference two weeks ago hosted by NCHMA  where an affordable housing developer locates a medical office on-site as part of their senior affordable housing projects. The result for the developer has been measurable – by having a doctor on-site, residents are healthier and cost less to keep healthy. Since a lot of seniors rely twice on the taxpayer for housing and health care, this is very good policy to replicate.

But what about being in a walkable neighborhood? On the Congress for the New Urbanism’s Health Districts page, John Norquist is quoted about the value of simply being able to take a daily walk in the neighborhood as a major aspect recovery for vets returning from war. Apply that to seniors – not all seniors are frail; they deserve the ability to take walks in the neighborhood. There is no reason why senior housing developments need to be isolated on campuses when it is far better policy, and a savings to all of us, if they can live in a walkable setting. Senior affordable (and market rate) developers should look at their line item for transportation, vans and drivers, and consider the tradeoff of locating in a walkable neighborhood that allows their residents to be more independent.

A few years ago I saw a movie. I forget the title, but it was set in a mid-size English city, and the two central characters were single elderly men living in a senior housing building within walking distance of the nearby High Street. Several scenes showed them shuffling together to area shopping and amenities, able to live independently and be healthier because they were not isolated on a suburban senior campus, dependent on their children or a shuttle van to go anywhere. That resonated with me – I thought “I want to live there when I get old.”

What if the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program had a subset specifically for the healthcare industry? That way, healthcare providers could take advantage of a tax break on their profits but have them applied to a specific development that contains a healthy aspect, like affordable senior housing with on-site medical office and a Walkscore of 90 or greater? Just one example, but one that would definitely allow the for-profit healthcare industry to literally see long-term savings because those they insure would be healthier.

There are many possible solutions for ways to create healthier communities. Decisions are possible at the federal and local level that encourage us to live healthier and might just help us figure out the entitlement problem in the long-run, and they are intricately tied to land use.

#ulifall13

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One Response to ULI Fall Meeting 2013 Dispatch I – Good Urbanism and Healthier Communities

  1. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell November 8, 2013 at 8:01 am #

    Good stuff!

    We’ll all decline sometime, but there are two incidents that do seem to dramatically accelerate things; retirement, and sr housing. People I’ve talked to who work in independent living, assisted living, and similar facilities, all seem to say the same thing—people come in fairly spry and healthy, and decline quickly. Personally, I think this is largely due to inactivity and lack of fresh air.

    I think walkable neighborhoods are good, but many seniors don’t want to just walk (and won’t), they want to go somewhere. Sr housing that is close enough to some cafe’s and shopping and that has safe walking and bicycling to those places will give seniors a safe place to go and, more important, a good reason to get out of bed and go there.

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