Robert Hammond – Urban Wellness from New York’s High Line to Stadium-Sized Urban Spas

Are you tired of feeling disconnected in the bustling city? Are you searching for a way to connect with others and improve your overall wellness? Are you a developer, business owner or residential property owner seeking to create a stronger sense of community within your built environment? Our conversation today is with a pioneering urban planner who is leading the way in revolutionizing the way we think about community and wellness in cities around the world.
​​Robert Hammond is a visionary in the world of urban planning and co-founder of the non-profit organization Friends of the High Line, which has helped change the way locals and visitors experience New York City.  He is a passionate advocate for creating innovative, interactive and healthy public spaces in cities around the world.
Hammond has been instrumental in creating one of the most iconic landmarks in New York City – the 1.4 mile long elevated park, The High Line. He spearheaded the grassroots effort to transform a neglected elevated railway into a symbol of urban renewal for the city. The High Line has brought joy to the city and its visitors from around the world, becoming a beloved destination for locals and tourists alike — whether for a leisurely stroll, to view an art installation, sunbathe on the lawn, sip a coffee on the steps hovering above 10th avenue, enjoy a picturesque shortcut to the Whitney Museum or Chelsea Market… or just stop and smell the over 300 species of flowers.  
Hammond never expected to be involved in communities, parks, or open spaces, but following his passions and interests set him on that path. The High Line, an old, elevated rail line in Manhattan caught his attention when he read a New York Times article in 1999 that said it was going to be demolished. He thought he could volunteer and help out with the preservation group in New York. He joined a community board meeting, where he met Joshua David, a travel writer, and they started working together to save the High Line. The movement succeeded, and 20 years later the High Line is an iconic New York landmark and a symbol of smart urban preservation to the world.
However, he admits that they didn’t do everything right. One of their failures was that they created a lot of value for developers and property owners, but didn’t figure out a mechanism to capture the value and maintain the park. Another failure was that not everyone benefited equally from the High Line. Low-income public housing populations next to the High Line were not displaced, but the places they shopped and their local stores were replaced by more upscale stores. They also recognized that when they opened the High Line, it was almost all white — lacking the rich diversity of the city itself. After surveying residents and introducing new programs, the High Line is now close to representing the same demographics as the city.
After leaving the High Line, Robert is now focused on thermal wellness — one of the top trends in Global Wellness Institute’s The Future of Wellness 2023 Trends report. He looked into the history of Roman bathing and how it is about community and health, not just cleanliness. He’s now working with Therme Group to design large public spots. These facilities are half a million square feet to 750,000 square feet and are large enclosed glass-based spaces with amazing plants, pools, saunas, water park, and food. Ultimately, these programs create a large-scale community space where people can gather, relax, and enjoy. And as we discussed with Dan Buettner when speaking about Blue Zones, focusing on your personal community can have lasting impacts on your wellness as well.
Community plays a vital role in wellness. The idea that we can feel better together is something that is often overlooked but is extremely important. People are drawn to these communal spaces, whether they realize it or not, and the sense of connection and community is what makes them truly beneficial. At the end of the day, wellness should be about having fun and feeling good. We should strive to create spaces that are not only good for us, but also enjoyable and bring people together. So, let’s embrace the idea of wellness and make it more fun and inclusive for everyone.
To learn more, read Robert Hammond’s recent article, “Urban Infrastructure Might Just Save Cities” (excerpt from the Global Wellness Summit’s The Future of Wellness 2023 Trends report) and visit The High Line.
Resources: Hosted by Kim Marshall
Sponsored by Hyatt, owner of wellness brands including MiravalPark Hyatt and Alila.

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