Healthy Ever After

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Photography by Bernstein Associates

This new low-income rental community makes fitness and good nutrition a little easier. Here’s how.

Morrisania, a poor neighborhood in New York’s South Bronx, fits the definition of a “food desert” perfectly. It’s one of those places where people have little access to fresh healthy foods—and those who live there have suffered from obesity, diabetes, and related health issues for generations.

So when planning Arbor House, a 120,000 square-foot multifamily building in the neighborhood, Blue Sea Development co-founders Les Bluestone and Avery Seavey saw an opportunity: Why not create a state-of-the-art property for low-income residents that includes amenities to support healthy lifestyles?

Both inside and out, the architectural features of Arbor House give it the appearance of a luxury apartment building. Yet it was developed to meet the affordable low-income rental apartment needs for households earning less than 60 percent of the area median income in the area ($49,800 for a family of four).

Steps Toward Exercise

One of Blue Sea’s strategies was to encourage the residents to use the stairs more often. So the developer designed the entry so that the stairs, not the elevators, were immediately visible. Designers opened up the stairwells so they weren’t dark and closed off from the rest of the building. They also created special enhancements in the stairwells to make them more pleasant: fire-rated glass doors instead of steel, art displays, attractive lighting, and music. One place these features were purposefully left out? The elevators.

Photography by Bernstein Associates
Photography by Bernstein Associates

Stairways were just one way the developers created opportunities for residents to make healthy lifestyle choices. The building also boasts a fully-equipped indoor fitness center and a 10,000 square-foot plaza re-landscaped to include an elaborate fitness path with exercise stations.

Clean and Green

Blue Sea also wanted to improve renters’ health by improving air quality in the building, so the developer included a 170-square-foot living green wall in the lobby that lets plants replace carbon dioxide with oxygen.

Photography by Bernstein Associates
Photography by Bernstein Associates

Plants play an even bigger role on the building’s roof, where a 10,000-square-foot greenhouse holds a hydroponic farm. The farm grows produce year-round, and 40 percent of what it produced is distributed within the local community.

While the building boasts many energy-efficient features, it was resident education that Bluestone became most interested in when designing the building. The developer installed home energy monitors in all of the units so residents can see in real time what the cost of electricity is for that apartment. This gives residents the immediate information they need to make choices to reduce their energy consumption.

Photography by Bernstein Associates
Photography by Bernstein Associates

Not Just Healthy, but Beautiful

Arbor House was not a simple “design, develop and build” project. Blue Sea Development worked with multiple agencies and individuals, including the NYC Housing Department of Preservation and Development, the New York State Homes and Community Renewal, and local elected officials to realize this ambitious venture.

Designers took care to give the building the safety elements it needed due to its location in an urban center, but delivered them in a beautiful and unique way. The building features artist-commissioned decorative art wrought in metal, which also serves as window security, turning their functionality into an attractive, unique visual addition to the building and streetscape. Lush landscaping also surrounds the building, softening its urban setting.

Photography by Bernstein Associates
Photography by Bernstein Associates

To encourage a sense of community, Arbor House features amenities usually found only in luxury buildings: It offers a resort-style pool and furnished sundeck with lounge area, grilling spaces, a dramatic fountain, and a chic clubroom with a bar, comfortable seating, flat screen televisions, and gaming zone. Arbor House even has a cyber cafe with Wi-Fi access and state-of-the-art equipment, an outdoor fire pit with lounge seating, bike storage with an on-site bike repair area, and a sleek, modern lobby with a stylish waiting area and coffee bar.

Arbor House received both a Best in Region and a Multifamily Platinum award in the Best in American Living Awards for 2013 (go to bestinamericanlivingawards.com).

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