The Michigan chapter of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) held a morning conference entitled Building Healthy Places on March 6th inside the Innovation Institute at the Henry Ford Hospital (HFH) main Midtown campus. It was an interesting retrospective on how the 3rd largest health research institution in the State is changing its role in the greater community in which it provides health care. After welcoming remarks by William Watch, ULI Michigan’s Chairman, Jordan Cox, a Project Manager from HFH, explained the value of the Innovation Institute not just to the health provider, but to a much more diverse audience. Mr. Cox described the “free thinking” that goes on there and pointed to a newly designed patient gown from the Institute that was a smashing success on the Ellen Show.
A Henry Ford Health System Urban Planning Specialist, Thomas A. Habitz, spoke about the health systems’ increasing role as a committed leader in the economic growth of a revived Detroit. With the hospital’s approaching 100 year anniversary, HFHS is seriously rethinking its role as a major player and Master Developer in a neighborhood just south of its main hospital campus. Its urban planners know the 8,000 employees want more than just a place to work. Many would enjoy an urban experience of working, living and playing near the hospital. While the neighborhoods surrounding the hospital are presently severely depressed, there is an ambitious plan afoot to change that reality.
A Master Plan for the area calls for housing (including low income components) replacing surface parking lots, mixed used buildings and vibrant retail shops, including a grocery store and restaurants. As a benevolent Master Developer with control of substantial land in the area, HFHS has some leverage to be a visionary for better neighborhoods similar to successful urban areas currently surrounded by other major institutions. Chicago (Northwestern Hospital), Ann Arbor (U of M Hospital) and Baltimore (John Hopkins Hospital) come to mind. Of course, the idea of a healthy, vibrant functioning neighborhood is the cornerstone of ULI’s national program for building healthy places.
David Scheuer, President of The Retrovest Companies and a long time developer, was in town representing ULI’s Building Healthy Places Initiative. He laid out ULI’s interest in the development of more healthy buildings and some of the main goals in which they will be focusing on in cities around the country.
This is a very large initiative with significant research to support the notion that many of today’s chronic health challenges are a direct or indirect result of our built environment. There is little doubt living and working conditions in both homes and communities directly influence the health of the inhabitants. ULI members and others can lead by becoming involved in their organizations, considering health in future development projects and influence policy in this area. Most importantly, ULI leaders and members can begin to teach, lead and follow the ten principles laid out in the study for building healthy places.
Some of the more important principles for building healthy places include: Put people first in order to integrate health into planning; Consider healthy places to create economic value for the private as well as public sectors; Communities should make healthy choices easy for both citizens and visitors; Incentivize the mix of work, live and play options to improve physical and social activity; Locate the unique characteristic and place making strengths of one’s own community; and finally, Promote access to healthy food and make healthy food an accessible destination.
Through a better understanding of vibrant communities, place making, easily accessible live work and play options along with a thoughtful neighborhood Master Plan, neighborhoods can be reborn. Such is the hope for the surrounding neighborhoods of Henry Ford Health Systems’ main campus. Let the visioning and implementation of Building Healthy Places commence !
ROBERT E. MATTLER, Associate Broker, Attorney and LEED AP BD+C, is Director of Green Brokerage at Armada Real Estate Services in West Bloomfield, Michigan. He speaks, writes and reports about emerging green real estate and development issues in Michigan and elsewhere. Bob is a senior correspondent for www.greeningdetroit.com For more information, contact Bob at Armada Real Estate (248) 855-1221; or by e-mail: email@example.com