New research shows the astounding impact of the built environment on health. That research has designers rethinking the impact of design. And, not only are designers paying attention, leading associations are focusing on solutions and redefining metrics.

The real estate industry has been challenged to build a better future for its children.

For the first time in history, U.S. children are facing a shorter life expectancy than their parents and, according to experts, bad living environments have contributed to the problem as much as bad habits.

At the spring ULI meeting here last week, some of the nation’s top developers, architects, planners and lenders put advancements in the field of healthy construction at the top of the agenda and called on their colleagues in the industry to do the same.

“In the U.S., our children’s generation, my children’s generation, will be the first in U.S. history to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents and the reason for that is the epidemic of diabetes, obesity and chronic disease amongst our children is now outpacing our ability to make medical advances to increase life expectancy,” said Joanna Frank, president and CEO of the New York-based Center for Active Design,

“I could probably just stop there. Do you need further motivation to concentrate on this?”

Speakers stripped the issue back to basics, noting staircases and sidewalks, simple as they may be, can improve tenant health and drive residential as well as commercial leasing. However, while wellness strategies have succeeded in both luxury and government-subsidized projects, the industry has struggled to apply them broadly.

“We are interested in how can we influence activities and the way housing is built in the middle, in the broader marketplace,” Rachel MacCleery, head of the Urban Land Institute’s Building Healthy Places Initiative said during the organization’s annual spring meeting. “How can some of these lessons from affordable housing and, potentially, from some of the higher-end projects being built be applied to market-rate housing, missing middle housing and other types of housing?”

A survey by McGraw Hill shows that 71 percent of renters would like to live in a health-promoting community, one with walking paths, sidewalks and trails, but only 16 percent of the developers surveyed said they factor this into their building considerations. In the commercial market, 78 percent of millennials said a healthy workplace is a top priority and 69 percent were willing to trade other benefits for it.

Read More