At the beginning of the last century, Americans lived primarily in small towns. They knew all their neighbors and wouldn’t think twice about having their children play outside unaccompanied. With the end of World War II, however, American tastes changed. People no longer wanted small-town life, and cities represented opportunities that didn’t exist in small towns. In ever-increasing numbers, Americans moved from inner cities and outer exurbs to suburbs that offered easy commuting to their jobs and safe environments for their children.
The concept of planned unit developments (PUDs for short) emerged around that time to address the shifting mood of America’s homebuyers. PUDs are a designed grouping of varied-but-compatible land uses such as housing, recreation and commercial centers, usually located in one subdivision. The oldest PUDs were built shortly after World War II, and include places such as Levittown and Park Forest, as well as other similar communities that dot the suburban American landscape even now. These carefully planned (often to the point of being discriminatory against certain racial and ethnic groups) communities underpinned a very specific version of the ‘American Dream’ that included a home in a placid suburban landscape where children could roam the streets in search of a pick-up softball game, and spontaneous weekend barbecues with the neighbors were the order of the day.
In the past 30 years that world has changed, too. Commuting times have increased, and safety — or at least the perception of safety — has decreased. Pollution has increased, and fear keeps many children inside homes and in front of TV screens. Rising rates of obesity and other health risks affect both adults and children. Those postwar rows of identical, often prefabricated, homes with lawns like Astroturf and not a single shrub out of place seem quaint and a little dated.
But that doesn’t mean that PUDs are a relic of the past. A major shift in the direction of PUDs is toward so-called ‘wellness communities,’ retrofitting many of the qualities that characterized both the small-town and suburban post-World War II experience with more modern sensibilities and priorities. Today’s wellness communities market that nostalgia to the rising class of millennial homebuyers and older baby boomer adults seeking both an active lifestyle and a community feeling.
The Rise of Wellness Real Estate
According to a report issued by the Global Wellness Institute, wellness communities worldwide represented a $134 billion industry in 2017. The North American market represents $52.5 billion of that total, and is expected to grow by 6.4 percent annually, topping $180 billion by 2022.