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Major Cities Pursue Safer, Healthier Buildings for a Stronger, More Resilient Future

(NewsUSA Staff Writer)Miami, Jersey City and other municipalities leading the way to establish health leadership across their public building portfolios.

Citing the need to better protect the health of residents and workers in a post-pandemic world, U.S. cities are embracing important health and safety improvements to public buildings.

Last month, Jersey City, NJ, announced it earned the WELL Health-Safety Rating for facility Operations and Management, a leading healthy building designation now used in more than 125 countries, for six municipal buildings including City Hall.

To earn the rating, Jersey City made numerous upgrades to its facility operation and management protocols, including efforts to address indoor air quality and implementing science-based procedures for emergency preparedness and response, facility cleaning, hygienic hand washing, and reduction in hand contact of high-touch surfaces, among other measures.

Jersey City Mayor Steven M. Fulop said in a statement that earning the rating was a “critical investment” in the city that will “positively impact our residents for decades to come.”

The healthy buildings movement is gaining traction among local governments. Last year, the City of Miami became the first U.S. city to earn the WELL Health-Safety Rating for a portfolio of municipal facilities, achieving the designation across 10 buildings and facilities in public parks totaling about 800,000 square feet.

“In Miami, and in cities across the country, we are looking much closer at the outsized role buildings play in keeping us safe and healthy,” said Mayor Francis Suarez upon achieving the milestone. “I hope other cities will replicate what Miami is doing to advance WELL buildings, so we can deliver the benefits of healthy buildings to communities everywhere.”

The U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM), the advocacy organization representing more than 1,400 mayors nationwide, has adopted two resolutions since 2020 encouraging its members to improve the health and safety of public buildings as a key strategy to safeguard the well-being of residents and workers.

In 2022, the City of Austin, TX, achieved full WELL Certification for its new Permitting and Development Center. This was the first WELL achievement in the city at the Gold level.

“The Center was built with wellness and sustainability at the forefront,” said Lucia Athens, the City’s then Chief Sustainability Officer. “By focusing on WELL principles like abundant natural light, good air quality, and healthy food availability, the City of Austin is leading the way in people-centric building design.”

Other cities demonstrating health leadership through WELL programs in one or more public buildings or referenced the WELL Standard in local guidelines include Chicago, IL; San Francisco and Sacramento, CA; Philadelphia, PA; Washington D.C.; Orlando, FL; Atlanta, GA; Denver, Aspen, CO; Seattle, WA;  and Austin and Dallas, TX. More than 20 additional local governments have signaled interest in strengthening the health and safety of public buildings, said Jason Hartke, Executive Vice President of Advocacy and Policy at the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), the organization that created and administers WELL ratings and certifications.

“Our public buildings have a special obligation to be out in front when it comes to health leadership,” Hartke said. “The actions by cities like Jersey City and Miami will inspire other cities and states nationwide to grow the movement for people-first places that improve our communities.”

Elected leaders are pursuing healthier public buildings as demand for health-related certifications has surged in commercial real estate. IWBI’s suite of WELL designations are now in use across 4.6 billion square feet of space globally, an almost 10-fold increase since the beginning of 2020, which includes iconic properties like Yankee Stadium and the Empire State Building as well as the full retail portfolios of national chains like Planet Fitness, T-Mobile and Simon’s shopping centers.

A study published in late 2022 in Building and Environment, a peer-reviewed journal, found that WELL Certification significantly improved worker satisfaction, wellness, and productivity. Those results add to a growing body of research linking healthier space to reduced employee absenteeism, improved cognitive function, and lower healthcare costs for companies, as well as stronger real estate financial returns from rental premiums and longer lease terms.

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