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Creating Well buildings and communities for healthier living in Philadelphia

Trees will mitigate heat on summer days, and air and water purification will be part of all residential, commercial and office spaces. Streets and sidewalks will be improved, and public art installed.

Change is coming to Philadelphia’s Tioga neighborhood. TPP Capital Management Group, based in Center City, is planning to redevelop 139 acres over five city blocks with retail and commercial spaces with food entrepreneurs, health-care services, and a job training center.

The project will include more than 1,400 residences — housing for students and senior citizens and condominiums for middle-income service workers.

Motivated by improving the well-being of the area’s residents, TPP has designed a fully integrated health and wellness community, to be centered at Broad Street and Allegheny Avenue, with access to fresh food, fresh air, and outdoor public spaces.

“We know that spaces can either welcome people in or make people feel disengaged and that the notion of health and well-being as a choice is a myth,” said Rachel Hodgdon, president and CEO of the International Well Building Institute (IWBI), which advocates measuring, certifying, and monitoring features of the built environment that impact human health. “Much of that has more to do with your zip code than your genetic code. The pandemic taught us that low-income communities suffered disproportionately.”

In Tioga, 85% of the residents are Black, with more than 40% suffering from high blood pressure and obesity and almost a fifth with diabetes, according to research by TPP. In this fresh-food desert, where the median income is $17,052, 42% of people live in poverty, and the unemployment rate is 18%.

And that was before the pandemic hit.

“This particular neighborhood has the worst health disparities in the city, and the Well certification was the final piece of a goal we set out in 2015 to design a tech-forward, fully integrated health and wellness focused district,” said Anthony Miles, fund manager and principal at TPP Capital, a social impact private equity fund manager and urban health-care real estate development firm. “The impetus was to reduce the social determinants of health and build upon the 142,000-square-foot preventative health hub that Clinton Bush and I co-architected.”

Possibly not as well-known as LEED, the widely used green building rating system for environmental responsibility, Well focuses on human health and well-being within the physical environment.

Although the Tioga District will be the first local community seeking Well certification, several Philadelphia buildings and office spaces have already received the accreditation, including University City’s FMC Building, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Nasdaq office at 29th and Walnut Streets. JPMorgan Chase at Logan Square in Center City and Drexel Square at 30th and Market Streets are pursuing certification.

“Your physical and social environment — where you sit and who you sit next to — have a greater bearing on your health and well-being than your access to health care, your genetics and your lifestyle and behaviors combined,” Hodgden said.

The Tioga redevelopment will add many of the wellness attributes other neighborhoods take for granted. Streets and sidewalks will be improved, and public art installed. Trees will mitigate heat on summer days, and air and water purification will be part of all residential, commercial and office spaces. Residents will have access to pocket parks throughout the community and will receive free WiFi in their homes.

A 70,000-square-foot indoor vertical farm will be built with the goal of producing a million pounds of produce a year. The farm will be operated by Vertical Harvest, which launched its first operation in Jackson Hole, Wyo., in 2016. It expects to bring 50 full-time equivalent jobs to the neighborhood.

“The goal is for all of us to come together to come up with strategies to make sure diversity and inclusion of minorities and those who might be locked out are involved and that they have health and well-being,” said Bush, principal and CEO at TPP Capital.

TPP declined to share information on projected costs or financing of the project. Groundbreaking is expected in the next 90 days, and 28 projects have received zoning and use approval, Miles said. An additional 25 projects are being planned.

For Antoinette Phillips, a member of the Nicetown Tioga Improvement Team, the changes can’t come soon enough. She has lived in Tioga for more than 60 years, across from a mostly empty block where homes were demolished in 1970 and few have been rebuilt.

“Our community has been deserving of this plan for years,” Phillips said. “It allows our community to have safe places to go to for peace and solace because we have a lot of issues with addiction. This plan addresses our food insecurities and the food desert in our community by putting in a farmer’s market.”

IWBI’s Hodgdon said the developers’ partnerships with local Tioga community leaders, Philadelphia Planning, Philadelphia Housing and Development, EPA and HUD are key to the project’s success. They understand what ails the community and can help design strategies responsive to local needs, she said.

Well standards, launched in 2014 and updated in 2018 as Well v2, consider 10 categories: air, water, nourishment, light, movement, thermal comfort, sound, materials, mind, and community. Projects seeking Well certification can earn points based on performance of various policy, design and operational strategies and can achieve one of four certification levels: bronze, silver, gold or platinum.

In 2019, University City’s FMC building became the first Well Core Certified project at the bronze level globally, as well as the first Well v2 certification in the United States.

“Our team recognized the value of the IWBI’s comprehensive approach to evaluating health and wellness,” said Alex Grella, general manager of Brandywine Realty Trust in University City, which manages the FMC building. “Their Well certification is evidence-based and independently certified with third-party verification conducted at the building.”

The FMC building can boast many achievements within the Well standards. For example, in the category of air, the building features enhanced ventilation using state-of-the-art mechanical systems and incorporates higher levels of outdoor air and high efficiency filtration, Grella said.

“There was actually an on-site verification team that came out and measured all those values to ensure we were within Well standards,” he said.

With regard to light, the FMC Tower has floor-to-ceiling vision glass to allow in plenty of daylight and afford spectacular views of the river and nature, which also are part of the Well standards. The location next to the Cira Green rooftop and a proximity to the Schuylkill River Trail promote fitness and movement.

During the pandemic, employees especially have appreciated touchless elevators with enhanced ventilation and air purification, Grella said.

Well standards have gained popularity throughout the world, especially since the pandemic. When the program entered the market in 2014, Hogdon said, it took four years to enroll 250 million square feet of real estate. It took just a year to double that, reaching a half-billion square feet in 2019.

“Then the pandemic hit, and we had that brief moment of pause,” Hodgdon recalled. “Then almost immediately after, we started registering two million square feet per day on average.”

That included a smaller subset of Well, the Well Health Safety Rating, focusing specifically on operations and management relating to the pandemic. Companies including the Wells Fargo Center wanted to make their employees more confident in the safety of their work environment through the validation that certification offered.

A Well certification will help emphasize the wellness focus of the new Tioga District, but the community’s planners also see a benefit for existing businesses that reopen after the pandemic.

“The city is trying to open up, and when you have the Well Health Safety Rating on your business, it tells everybody that it’s safe to be in that indoor environment,” Bush said. “That’s huge for the city.”

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