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Sea View community in New York City ties sustainability to human health

Published on 28 Mar 2017  Written by Meghan Hazer  Posted in Industry

Sea View Healthy Communities builds health into the design of the neighborhood.

Sustainable design, once unconventional, has become the norm for many developments. Health-promoting design is emerging as a new trend, due in part to the realization that how we build matters—not just in terms of environmental sustainability, but also in terms of human health. Pioneering projects are now engaging in a new type of health-focused design.

One of those pioneers, Sea View Healthy Communities, is the subject of a Request for Expression of Interest (RFEI) recently released by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC). Initially developed as a tuberculosis facility, the hundred-year narrative of Sea View’s history in the context of its future vision reflects the public health community’s shift in focus from infectious to chronic disease. This shift was discussed by NYCEDC’s Munro Johnson in a recent blog published through our colleagues at the Build Healthy Places Network.

When asked by the Staten Island borough president to create a “health and wellness campus,” NYCEDC initially envisioned state-of-the-art health care facilities and residential communities for the disabled. This is not surprising, as health care facilities often come to mind when discussing health in the context of real estate development. However, the RFEI for Sea View takes a different approach by striving to develop Sea View instead as a healthy community, with explicit requirements to promote health through both design and operations.

It’s a unique ask, especially at the neighborhood scale. Munro Johnson, Vice President of NYCEDC, and Tommy Boston, Project Manager at NYCEDC for the Sea View Project, describe how they got there.

From health care to health promotion

The new focus on developing a “healthy community” was informed by data collection and cross-sector collaboration. According to Johnson, NYCEDC began with a medical services demand analysis and was surprised to find very low demand for additional medical facilities. In spite of having several highly ranked health care facilities, NYEDC discovered, the Staten Island borough has the highest mortality rate in New York City, specifically due to chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Johnson explains that this “paradox led us to the doorstep of healthy communities research and healthy communities design, and the current vision that we are working with for the project.” Johnson continues,“the original underlying policy objective [is] better health. Based on the numbers and the data, the best way to achieve that turned out not to be building a bunch of gleaming new health care facilities, but rather by building health into the design of a neighborhood.”

Health and sustainability side by side

In addition to health, the RFEI also includes sustainability goals. The NYCEDC team explained that requiring a focus on sustainability performance is viewed as a nonnegotiable, standard feature in procurement. For Sea View, Johnson referred to health and sustainability as “a natural match,” stating that “part of the nature of sustainable design is to surface what is happening in the environment in order to be better stewards of it—and living with a better relationship to nature is intrinsically healthy in most cases.” Boston added, “I think that the physical sustainability of the built environment in Sea View will comingle with the individual sustainability of its residents and inhabitants.”

This inclusion of health alongside sustainability in the “ask” for Sea View makes a bold statement, challenging the development community to consider what’s next for health and sustainability, and how we will define high-performing sites in the future.

 

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