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Sapien Urbanism

Historically, urban planners have proposed an array of approaches to address the changing needs of an aging and growing population for greater connectivity to each other and to their environments. New Urbanism is among the most notable of these approaches that gained popularity, so it warrants consideration in this discussion.

Unfortunately, New Urbanism has always been, and will always be, a misguided misnomer. First, despite what the name suggests, it is not “new.” It is a re-invigoration of centuries-old urban planning principles that have historically existed in Rome, Philadelphia, Charleston, and many cities across all points of the globe. 

The phrase emerged in 1980 out of a response to an increased emphasis on modern, stark architecture and city planning that centered around the car over the human scale.  New urbanism means a return to walkable, human-centric scale neighborhoods, largely utilizing traditional architecture as the preferred lexicon. It emerged as an alternative to the cookie-cutter, tract housing suburban developments epitomized by Levittown, NY.

While the concept of a walkable, human-scaled neighborhood is a sound, time-tested approach, the reference to “New” is inaccurate and misleading, as it simply cannot continue to be “new” as our human needs, our environment, and our cities continue to evolve. Such planning principles require flexibility to remain relevant, adequately applied, and truly create the healthy, vibrant living environments people of all ages need to survive and thrive.

Another issue: Architectural style should be subjective, and New Urbanism alienates those who prefer modern architecture. New Urbanism is most closely associated with classical, traditional architecture, and has struggled to incorporate modern design into the communities where it’s applied. Therefore, while its foundational principles sound great in theory, they have consistently fallen short in attempted widespread adoption.

This brings us to our concept of “Sapien Urbanism,” which is the first and only approach that tackles the root of the issue head-on and solves the problem that New Urbanism and other approaches have tried but failed to address. Specifically, that is loneliness – and the inescapable universal truth that human beings need meaningful connection. The answer is not just about putting people in close proximity in a pedestrian-friendly community – it is about creating environments where they can engage at meaningful levels and fulfill their needs for positive connections that combat loneliness.

If we define “urbanism” as the development and planning of cities and towns, and “sapien” as wise or intelligent, then as the name implies, “Sapien Urbanism” refers to smart, human-centered development. Sapien Urbanism transcends all traditional barriers and may be implemented in remote or densely populated regions almost anywhere in the world.

First, it is important to note some key facts about the science behind Sapien Urbanism. Loneliness is proven scientifically to have the same neural response as hunger.

The effects of loneliness and isolation are real.  Neuroscience proves we, in fact, require social interaction.  It’s a fundamental human need as basic as food, water, and shelter. Our brains need it.  After as little as 10 hours without social interaction, the neural response to our brain is the same as hunger.  When this occurs, we are not “feeding” our brain the food it needs!  This stresses how essential our need is to interact with others.  When we do not feed our brain through connecting with people, it begins to atrophy and degrade; and, if not counteracted, can lead to depression, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.

The U.S. Surgeon General completed a study on the subject of isolation and loneliness in 2023 as we emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic.  The findings were clear: “The lack of social connection poses a significant risk for individual health and longevity. Loneliness and social isolation increase the risk for premature death by 26% and 29% respectively.  More broadly, lacking a social connection can increase the risk for premature death as much as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.”  Imagine that not interacting with people can equate to becoming a smoker!  Research further found lack of social interaction and isolation increased risk for anxiety, depression, dementia and susceptibility to viruses and respiratory illnesses.  Loneliness and isolation cause major health risks which can be avoided.

All these health conditions have an economic cost, including $6.7 million in excess Medicare spending, lower academic achievement and worse performance at work, stress-related absenteeism attributed to loneliness that cost employers an estimated $154 billion annually in the U.S.  Lack of social connection impacts individuals, corporations, and communities at large.  A 2022 study found loneliness in the United States is abundant – affecting 61% of adults in the United States.  When adults were asked how close they felt to others emotionally, only 39% adults said they felt very connected to others.  Young adults represent among the highest rates of adults experiencing loneliness.

The Purpose

Our explicit purpose is to create an environment centered on the human experience — where all live vibrantly, where no one feels alone, where people find the best of themselves, and where quality of life is primary.

Our approach is informed by science and years of research that molds every decision, every nook and cranny designed, every color painted, and every tree planted.

This way of living emphasizes human happiness, individually and collectively, in one community.

Our charge is to create a new living environment that:

  • Cultivates a life of purpose and belonging
  • Focuses on an active life through wellness, social interaction, and curiosity
  • Emphasizes quality of time
  • Encourages a positive mindset
  • Supported by scientific research related to neuroscience and the brain

Creating this is about paying attention to the plethora of seemingly small details that come together to create big impact. It is about taking the extra time to plan projects with purpose, intent, and an unwavering commitment to achieving the desired outcomes.  To illustrate, some of these details may include: The porch, the hearth, the workshop, the garden, and the track. 

The Porch represents a place to commune, to sit on a rocking chair, relax during the day or in the evenings and have casual conversations with neighbors.

The Hearth is the heart of the community – it’s a place of warmth and welcome centered around one of the most powerful natural elements: fire. The hearth is literally built around a fireplace where people gather to eat, meet and socialize. It is an anchoring place of vibrancy and activity.

The Workshop is a place for production – to paint, to repair, to create new things.  It’s proven that a feeling of utility is a fundamental necessity; humans need to feel useful and engage in productive activities to feel their lives have meaning and purpose.

The Garden brings sensory experiences that heighten and engage the senses – simultaneously providing soothing and stimulating effects of the natural environment that balance our mental and physical wellbeing.  

The Track promotes physical activity – running, walking, and of course, socializing.  Each one of these areas is intentionally designed and integrated to help create a healthy mind, body and spirit by stimulating natural interactions and promoting an active life, and a curious, healthy mind.

Whether developing a major commercial or residential project or a small civic plaza, Prospera will incorporate these principles. Recognizing that every community has different needs, every Sapien Urbanist development will look different, each incorporating custom-tailored elements to achieve the best-possible outcomes for all project and community stakeholders.