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Florida Community Takes a Smart City Approach to Wellness

On the theory that a civic approach to wellness starts with data, some 2,000 residents in Lake Nona, Fla., have signed on to be eligible for a longitudinal research study on local health and wellness issues.

The developers of Lake Nona, Fla., like to think of themselves as a city within the larger city of Orlando. The 11,000-acre mixed-use planned community has housing that ranges from townhomes to estates. It has 10 million square feet of commercial space with gigabit connectivity.

Lake Nona also has wellness, with a 650-acre health and life sciences business park and a newly announced “wellness platform” designed to bring smart technologies to the table.

“How do we put legs on what healthy living means? What does a wellness community mean? We need to think about this in a way that is more holistic than what we have seen in other big master-planned communities,” said Gloria Caulfield, executive director of the Lake Nona Institute and vice president of strategic alliances at Tavistock Development Co.

A civic approach to wellness starts with data. To that end Tavistock teamed early on with Johnson and Johnson’s Wellness and Prevention Inc. to conduct a longitudinal research study on local health and wellness issues. Some 2,000 residents have signed on to be eligible.

“It will help us better understand prevention, wellness and health. It’s going to be everything from claims data to self-reported survey instruments to biometrics and potentially even genetic data over time,” Caulfield said.

The developers also have launched a WHIT initiative, addressing wellness, home innovation and technology. The effort aims to turn homes into “living laboratories” where residents can discover new technologies that address sleep, nutrition, chronic care and a range of other wellness variables.

“People simply want to live in a healthy home. They want an environment that helps to support their health status, but they don’t know how to go about it,” Caulfield said. “There is a drive to have a preventative slant to health care so everyone doesn’t end up crashing in these very expensive tertiary care facilities. So we want to look at how the home can contribute to that, what a home health dashboard might look like and how it could give residents actionable data at the right time.”

Institutionally, this mini-city supports its wellness drive with a health and life sciences cluster. Tenants include the University of Florida Research and Academic Center, Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, and the GuideWell Innovation Center, a laboratory and incubation space for health-related endeavors.

The developers also have established their own nonprofit, the Lake Nona Institute, which focuses on innovative technologies and programs for building healthy, sustainable communities.

Most recently, Tavistock announced it would be rolling out a wellness initiative built on Jiyo, a comprehensive digital platform recently launched by health advocate Dr. Deepak Chopra. They are calling it a smart-cities approach to wellness.

“Lake Nona has offered us the unique opportunity to create the Internet of wellbeing, the global brain for creating a more peaceful, sustainable, healthier and more joyful world,” said Chopra in a press release. 

More specifically, Joya will give developers a means to distribute needed health information. “We want to provide content and resources that have been vetted, that have strong trust and credibility,” Caulfield said.

The central element of the program will be an app that delivers curated wellness information and practical advice in small daily doses. Over time, the information will be tailored to the needs of the local community based at least in part on the findings of the Johnson and Johnson research.

“We are creating a customized community of content, a community within that app that will engage individuals in a range of programs, initiatives and content with a heavy focus on emotional well-being. We think of it as sort of a Facebook for health,” Caulfield said. The app will deliver bite-sized bits of information on sleep management, stress and nutrition. “The idea is not to thrust it at you in vast quantities, but to give you something actionable daily or weekly.”

Lake Nona is not the only master planned community to take on wellness as its theme.

In Liberty, Mo., for example developers are working on Norterre, whose offerings span the gamut from a Pilates studio to a short-stay rehabilitation facility. The master-planned community ATLAS, presently under development adjacent to the Texas A&M Health Science Center, also claims an emphasis on wellness.

In fact, with the aging of the baby boomers, some real-estate professionals have predicted wellness will be the predominant theme of future planned developments.

Cities hoping to leverage technology in support of wellness may find themselves looking to these master-planned communities for pointers — but these developers may enjoy certain advantages not available to city planners. In particular, they get to start with a clean slate, which may allow them to incorporate wellness technology from the ground up, rather than adding it into an existing landscape.

“What is most important is the recognition that as a person you are making dozens of decisions every day that can have a direct impact on your health and well-being.” Caulfield said. “Community development has to be done in such a way as to encourage the best possible decision-making for an individual. We want the healthy choice to be the default choice.”

She describes a simple example: Civic architecture that guides people to take the stairs by placing the elevators off to the side of the lobby rather than front and center. That’s a means to promote wellness that a developer can implement in a ground-up effort, but that a city might not be able to incorporate in existing facilities.

While the developers may have an edge in this regard, wellness nonetheless remains high on the agenda for many aspiring smart cities.

The Smart Cities Council describes how Dell Healthcare Services uses telehealth to help patients deal with transportation challenges and keep in touch with clinicians. Researchers at the Harvard Kennedy School are building the case for increase use of data to bolster public health.

“The increase in technology and data that will come with smart cities represents a huge opportunity for governments to change the way that health care is delivered,” blogs smart cities technologist Lucy Zodion. “The enhanced connectivity that will come with smart cities has the potential to make sure that health care services are truly meeting the needs of citizens.” 

Adam Stone is a contributing writer for Government Technology magazine.