keskiviikko 28. helmikuuta 2018

Wellness City: a new local economic development paradigm


Wellness is a holistic view of personal health-promoting attitude and actions. For some decades, it has been mainly associated with spas, fitness, beauty products and treatments, healthy nutrition, alternative medicine, and meditation. A particularly strong association with spa economy has kept it to a degree on the sideways of local industrial policy.

In previous decades, wellness may not have looked particularly viable option for local politicians, public managers, and developers, when compared with high-tech, advanced business services, or creative industries. This view has its root in the view of wellness as low-paid and low-skill sector, but it is biased in some important respects. In short, business boosted by the rising global lifestyle and wellness trends is expanding and diversifying, and it seems that time is ripe for integrating it into the local economic development agenda.

Wellness revolution

A conditioning factor worth taken into account when assessing the significance of wellness for urban economic development is the emergence of post-industrial economy. It is a major contextual factor behind the economic restructuring that swept through the advanced industrial economies after the World War II, referring to the loss of industrial production to low-cost countries and increased reliance on high-tech and services. It is a statistical fact that in many industrialized countries manufacturing has been declining for decades while services have increased their relative importance. This spurs the rise of urban wellness and connects it with such fundamental issues as service innovation, integration, and transformation.

A fundamental micro-level factor behind wellness revolution is increased awareness among people of the problems with modern hectic and consumption-dominated lifestyle, which triggered the search for new health-conscious values, lifestyles and methods. Wellness-oriented lifestyles are particularly appealing to well-educated people with high income, which provides special incentive to business community. 

Wellness on local economic development agenda

Urban governments, developers, and business owners have recognized previously mentioned market developments. That is why traditional wellness destinations are nowadays accompanied by a range of new wellness communities, health care hubs, and urban wellness centers. It is the reason for cities like Mitsuke, Tampere, Sendai, Austin, Las Vegas or Detroit, and regions and city-states like Dubai, Singapore, Jeju island or Napa Valley, to utilize wellness in their place promotion and economic development policy.

An inevitable outcome of this development is that health and wellness industries are reshaping both suburbs and inner city areas and becoming integral parts of urban revitalization. They have an inherent connection with local assets and through them to locality development, the latter due to varying locality-specific advantages, be it exceptional beauty of local landscape, hot springs, local food culture, traditional healing, clustering of wellness businesses, spiritual traditions, or something else. In general, even if delocalization and disembedding mechanisms are at work in wellness as they are in any area of modern life, wellness has deep roots in the life of local communities.

Development of wellness city: dimensions and strategies

The conceptual model of wellness applied here to the development of wellness city is called the Y model of wellness. Within three different domains (shaped as a letter Y), it identifies eight dimensions, which serve as the basis for determining the major areas of wellness-oriented urban economic development. These dimensions are the following:

A. Health and appearance
- Health care as a wellness-related business
- Spa, beauty and fitness as a soft core of wellness cluster

B. Environments, amenities and tools of wellness
- Wellness-related shopping, entertainment and human desires
- Natural assets and livable urban environment
- Life sciences and wellness technologies as high value-added activities

C. Mind, vocation, cultural activities and spirituality
- Local facilitation of intellectuality and learning
- Cultural experiences, sociability and play
- Meditation, spirituality and transcendence.

Abovementioned dimensions point to activity areas of vital importance for holistic health that can be systematically developed and utilized in the revitalization of local economy, talent and investment attraction and job creation.

Strategy-wise, we may identify three types of wellness strategies: (a) smart community-driven wellness city strategy, (b) tourist attraction-oriented wellness city strategy, and (c) innovative export-driven wellness city strategy. There is a host of cases that reflect such strategies in different parts of the world. The first category relate to such cases as smart wellness cities in Japan, Health Village in Tampere, Finland, and Water Street Tampa, FL. Wellness tourism is promoted by Mines Wellness City in Malaysia, Dubai Healthcare City in Dubai, UAE, and Jeju Healthcare Town in Jeju island, South Korea. As an examples of more dynamic high-tech-oriented wellness cities we may mention welfare cluster in Sendai, Japan, health and high-tech integration in Austin, TX, and health care business incubator in Lisbon, Portugal.


The idea of wellness city encourages local politicians, developers, entrepreneurs, and civic leaders take a broad view of holistic health and its potential to harness local economic development. Wellness is genuinely heterogeneous group of inter-related industries, which as a development concept comprises diverse forms of activities from wellness products to services, events, micro environments, full-service destinations, and urban design. It has a potential to be high-profile target cluster or a supportive and integrative thematic cluster, depending on the preconditions and economic profile of each city. Wellness as a whole has become a viable industry or economic cluster, which not only increases local prosperity but also connects this endeavor with social inclusion, sustainability, and the sense of community, which are critical to our strive for creating conditions for better life for all.

Source: Anttiroiko, Ari-Veikko (2018). Wellness City: Health and Well-being in Urban Economic Development. Palgrave Macmillan.

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