Members of the Emerson Development Company placed white construction hats on their heads and pulled gold shovels out of the ground. Sweat dripped off their faces from the 9 a.m. sun as they dug up dirt and celebrated the official start of construction for a new community.
The groundbreaking ceremony on Oct. 8 kicked off building for Emerson, a new residential neighborhood focused on implementing all aspects of wellness into residents’ lives.
Ben Wacksman, the founder of Emerson Development, said when he started studying communities, downsizing was an important part of connecting neighbors.
When complete, Emerson will be the first microneighborhood in Gainesville, located just south of the University of Florida campus. The 58-townhome complex will be divided into five microneighborhoods with about 20 residential units in an area. Wacksman said this configuration allows people to better connect with each other — an important part of wellness.
“We need to start bringing people together,” Wacksman said. “And the way to do it is to start with neighborhoods.”
Wacksman developed the idea for Emerson over five years of looking at the common challenges for communities across the world. He noticed that people were lacking a social connection to others.
The design of the complex was inspired by the Grow Community in Bainbridge Island, Wash. Grow is designed to allow all generations to enjoy a high-quality and healthy lifestyle. Wacksman wanted to replicate that same concept. He hired the developer and architect of that development to help him think through the concept and figure out a way to make it Florida-centric.
“Some developers are saying that wellness is a bunch of gym equipment,” Wacksman said. “What we did [instead] is we built wellness into the community as a natural part of the environment.”
Emerson will have nature trails on site that will connect to the Serenola Forest Preserve. Wacksman said that from the second residents open their door they will be able to walk from their home onto a nature trail.
“We want to give people the opportunity to choose for themselves what they would like to do to pursue their own interests,” Wacksman said.
Wacksman knew he wanted people to be able to walk all around the complex, but making it comfortable for all residents was a challenge. He decided to implement “woonerfs,” which means “living yard” in Dutch. The curbless street design was originally used in the Netherlands and Belgium. Wacksman said the key to wellness is making it easy and natural — not a burden.
The complex will have a central community gathering place called the Hub, which will feature an open-air pavilion, pool and garden.
Lisa Fetrow, Emerson’s real estate listing agent, said there is no other place [in Gainesville] that has the same wellness focus on the initial design of the neighborhood.
“This isn’t about the commercial spaces it is connected to,” Fetrow said. “It’s about being connected to nature, access to walking trails and then a community that is centered more on your happiness and overall wellness.”
Emerson is 2.6 miles away from UF, and the complex will have a concierge designated to coordinate activities to connect the residents to the campus community.
“We are looking at the intellectual side of life,” Wacksman said. “So, our concierge will help people connect with the university and see if we can have speakers come. We want to give people the opportunity to create those groups.”
Erik Bredfeldt, economic development and innovation director for the City of Gainesville, met Wacksman around five years ago. He said that over the last several years the project has evolved.
Bredfeldt said the contributions of Emerson residents will have an impact on the surrounding environment.
The first phase of construction is expected to be complete by fall of 2022, and residents will be able to move in at that time.
“We want people to understand that this is one of those projects that is handcrafted with years of hard work,” Wacksman said. “We are trying to do something not for ourselves but for the residents. We are always focused on what we can do to make the lifestyles of the residents better.”