Green Cities Properties: Designed & Managed to Promote Occupant Health & Wellness
The disruptions in commercial real estate due to the COVID-19 pandemic are profound and are still unfolding. From our shared experience the past several months, a greater awareness of the connection between human health and the physical environment is emerging; after sheltering in place and slowly re-opening our workplaces, we have new appreciation for how deeply our mental and physical health is affected by the indoor environment. Going forward, our Firm believes buildings that offer a higher standard of care for tenants – in terms of illness prevention but also design, policies and programming to enhance overall health and well-being – will have a distinct advantage in the commercial real estate market. With an extensive track record in sustainable design and community impact, we believe our properties create healthier, engaging experiences for tenants and are well-positioned to address the industry’s current challenge.
Three of Green Cities Fund III’s new mixed-use apartment properties – ZO, 5 MLK and Bower demonstrate exceptional innovation through thoughtful implementation of healthy lifestyle programming and biophilic design principles, and all three are Fitwel certified. A new and important standard in commercial real estate, Fitwel is a health and wellness rating system that assesses health-related opportunities and risks in the design and operation of the buildings. Along with strategies that include physical health, the Fitwel standard recognizes biophilic design strategies that support mental well-being. Biophilic design is a philosophy that seeks to connect building occupants to nature through intentional design strategies involving direct and indirect references to nature; it also addresses place and space conditions and includes elements that create interest and wonder for building occupants.
Biophilic design strategies include access to daylight and views; greenery in the space; the use of natural materials, colors, patterns and shapes in interior finishes and furnishings, and variations in how light and air are experienced by occupants. For over a decade, Gerding Edlen has implemented many of these strategies into new construction and renovation properties. ZO features an assortment of artwork commissioned from local artists throughout the building including an impressive piece made entirely of gypsum displayed in the public plaza in front of the building. Bower features abundant natural light throughout all of the amenity spaces and uses materials inspired by nature for interior finishes and furnishings. At 5 MLK, design components and art installations celebrate the movement of water, and extensive greenery adorns the cascading exterior terraces. Studies show biophilic design evokes positive physiological responses in people that in turn lead to improved health and wellness through stress reduction, improved comfort, higher productivity and fewer physical ailments.
In addition to design approaches, our Firm follows environmentally responsible practices in building operations to maximize positive outcomes for staff and residents. For healthier air quality, non-toxic materials and finishes are prioritized in construction, renovation and ongoing maintenance; operable windows give access to fresh air, and mechanical systems feature high-efficiency air filtration. Air quality tests for carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds are performed annually at most properties with minimal levels detected, exceeding industry averages for high performance buildings.
An array of operational changes has taken place at each property. In response to COVID-19 and to the extent possible, ventilation volumes in the common areas have been increased at our multifamily properties to bring additional fresh air into the buildings. All non-essential community amenity spaces closed for several months and are now reopening in line with the local jurisdiction’s requirements under a new set of operational protocols.
Enhanced cleaning protocols are being implemented with more frequent cleaning of all high- volume touch points with electrostatic sprayers. While residents still have access to free green cleaning products to use in their apartments, all common areas are cleaned with a non-toxic, environmentally responsible product that is also effective against viruses. Anti- viral coatings are being applied to elevator buttons. Face masks are required in all amenity areas, and furniture has been repositioned to maintain physical distancing guidelines.
Dedicated food delivery stations minimize foot traffic within the building. Virtual and self- guided touring options are available. These and other measures support resident health by minimizing negative impacts to the indoor environment.
At every property, resident programming includes an array of components that support health and wellness and build community. As residents navigate these new conditions, our goal is to ensure their safety and well-being while encouraging social connection through virtual means. Our “Resident Love” campaign includes a variety of lifestyle recommendations for mind and body wellness through online fitness classes, meditation and relaxation sessions. In keeping with our commitment to community, we have provided resources for take-out dining to support local businesses and coordinated with several of our existing lifestyle and fitness partners to offer expanded virtual programming. Virtual social events are held regularly, and we promote our retail tenants and their businesses within our virtual platforms. Weekly communications keep residents informed of operational changes as the situation evolves, provide helpful resources such as how to make a face mask and remind those living in our communities that we are in this together.
At Gerding Edlen, we recognize the interconnected relationship between buildings and human health. Looking forward, we will continue to monitor operational protocols and to modify them as necessary to meet or exceed the most current CDC requirements. We will also continue to promote safe social interactions in our communities and to offer innovative programs that support tenant health and well-being. Despite the challenges we face, we remain committed to developing, owning and managing properties that engage and empower tenants to live a sustainable and healthy lifestyle.
For more information, please contact our Director of Sustainability, Renee Loveland – [email protected].