Most major master-planned residential developments are centered around a sales-driving pièce de résistance: a golf course, a playground-studded expanse of parkland, a working farm or a tech startup-friendly commercial district linked to a major commuter rail line.
Boasting (an eventual) 11,000 homes fanning out across 14-square-miles of former Central Florida pastureland, Orlando’s Lake Nona — “the Modern Metropolis,” as its developer, Bahamas-based private investment firm the Tavistock Group, calls it — features the typical trappings of a large master-planned community including schools, shopping and, yep, an 18-hole championship golf course.
However, as the New York Times recently detailed, Lake Nona offers something that its contemporaries in the Orlando area and beyond don’t: a major medical campus.
Serving as the somewhat unlikely centerpiece of Lake Nona is Medical City, a 650-acre health care hub described as both an Orlando landmark and a “premier location for medical care, research and education.”
Located at Medical City is Nemours Children’s Hospital, the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Center, the University of Central Florida Medical Center, the University of Florida Research and Academic Center, the Orlando VA Medical Center and the Guidewell UST Global Innovations Center, a state-of-the-art facility that “welcomes biotech companies, digital developers and modern business-minds to collaborate on developing groundbreaking ideas to advance health science.”
Bit of a departure from the standard community clubhouse and small cluster of shops, eh?
Lake Nona’s emphasis on wellness isn’t just restricted to Medical City, which, in its infancy, has already put Orlando on the map as an emerging global destination for medical tourists, which Florida as a whole sees roughly 300,000 to 400,000 of annually. Come for Disney, stay for the specialized health care, you might say.
In fact, the entire 9,000-acre development functions as a sort of gated, good health-promoting wonderland overflowing with fitness centers, cycling trails, and myriad open green space — 40 percent of Lake Nona is preserved as open space — ripe for pursuits of the heart rate-elevating nature. All and all, sounds like an awkward place to live if you just happen to be a complete and total slouch.
Writes the Times:
Mr. Zboril [President of Tavistock Group] said that, in an effort to build a place that inspires and helps create good health, Tavistock invited Lake Nona residents — about 11,000 people so far — to consider themselves a “living laboratory” and participate in formal health studies run by on-site institutions over many years. In the shorter term, residents are offered free activities like bike races, tai chi and yoga. Trails in the area will eventually total 44 miles.
Other health- and wellness-oriented amenities at Lake Nona include a bike share program, an aquatic center, community gardens and a YMCA. All of the development's individual neighborhoods have at least one swimming pool — and a handful of parks.
As far as Lake Nona's vast and diverse housing stock goes, the development's healthiest residence is, by far, WHIT — or Wellness Home built on Innovation and Technology.
Unveiled earlier this month in the Laureate Park neighborhood ("where life is better lived") as an initiative of the community's wellness- and sustainability-advancing nonprofit arm, the Lake Nona Institute, WHIT is essentially your standard smart home but on a crazy health kick. That is, all of the home-cum-living laboratory's high-tech bells and whistles (voice-controlled circadian mood lighting, air and water purification systems, a digitally enhanced kitchen, etc.) are specifically designed to improve the physical and mental well-being of its inhabitants. The Institute describes the open-for-public-tours showhome as being "a first-of-its-kind home designed to activate health solutions and technologies and research their ability to measurably improve health and well-being."
In addition to attracting potential homeowners who work in the health care and biotech industries (roughly 13 percent of Lake Nona’s current residents are employed at Medical City), the development has positioned itself as a major center for athletic training. Serving as a spry counterpart to research- and innovation-minded Medical City, Lake Nona’s Sports and Performance District is (or soon will be) home to the new 63-acre USTA National Campus, which boasts a staggering 120 tennis courts; a 23-acre training facility for the Orlando City Soccer Club; and the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute. In addition to the USTA, the 15,000-member-strong United States Professional Tennis Association, an organization that trains tennis instructors, plans to relocate from Houston to Lake Nona in 2017, according to the Times.
There are also plans for Drive Shack, an “interactive golf restaurant," to be built at the Sports and Performance District. Developed by leading nine-iron purveyor TaylorMade (a subsidiary of Adidas), the 66,000-square-foot “dining and entertaining complex” will include 90 outdoor driving bays and a cocktail lounge, according to Golf.com. The facility will no doubt appeal to visitors along with the sizable contingent of resident professional golfers — Ian Poulter, Ernie Els and Sergio Garcia et al. — who own homes within Lake Nona Golf & Country Club, the development's oldest and most tony (a "sanctuary of luxury real estate and amenities") neighborhood.
Of course, not everyone living at Lake Nona is a medical doctor or die-hard tennis nut. As the Times notes, the community’s close proximity to Orlando International Airport has attracted a sizable number of airport workers (13 percent of current residents) looking for comfortable digs and a quick and easy commute. What’s more, 27 percent of the development’s current residents work remotely from home, attracted to the Lake Nona’s self-described status as a “gigabit community” offering super-fast internet speeds.
“There’s not anything like this in all of North America,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer tells the Times. “Lake Nona is a great expression of what Orlando is all about. It wasn’t just a place where someone was going to build tract housing. It was a place that was going to be an economic engine for the area.”
Nothing else like it, indeed. From the sounds of it, I think all that's missing is a bike-thru pharmacy and an assisted living facility for retired caddies and Lake Nona, the healthiest self-contained mini-city in Central Florida, would be complete.