By Camilla McLaughlin

In 2019, the Global Wellness Institute called out urban wellness resorts as a future trend. Then the pandemic changed everything. Or so it seemed. Today, urban wellness appears even more prominently on the horizon. And a growing number of interest groups, developers and placemakers are taking notice. The trend has broadened beyond urban resorts. Now, Beth McGroarty, vice president of research for the Global Wellness Summit, says it’s “about how more affordable, democratic access to wellness is hitting global cities.”

Along with new urban resorts, multiple plans are underway for parks and new green enclaves in cities. In Europe, German-based Therme Group is working to bring an ancient bathing tradition to major cities. Urban resorts, many dedicated to wellness, are on the drawing boards of major hospitality brands. And increasingly, urban parks are valued for health benefits and social capital.

Turning Tides Festival

“Back in 2019, we predicted wellness resorts would expand beyond their exotic, far-flung destinations and hit more cities. Then the pandemic hit, and the urban wellness resort, a trend with powerful pre-pandemic momentum, felt on hold,” explains McGroarty.

Now, new chapters in the urban wellness story are being written, and for 2022 the concept has morphed beyond urban resorts. Instead, new urban parks and enclaves of green, a course planners and the Urban Land Institute have been promoting for more than a decade, expand the concept. “The trend is about how more affordable, democratic access to wellness is hitting global cities,” says McGroarty.

Urban Bathhouses and Wellness Playgrounds, one of eight trends the Institute cites for 2022, explores the many ways cities are being redesigned. McGroarty explains: “It lays out how urban landscapes are moving away from cars, pollution and endless consumerism to develop more green and communal spaces; how new man-made beaches, free pop-up wellness and fitness classes, and even water sports are now hitting unexpected cities such as New York, Paris, London, Sydney, Madrid and Tokyo; and how an urban bathhouse renaissance is underway.”

Wellness on the Tide

In the U.K., The Tide, London’s first-ever elevated riverside linear park, is a new hub for fitness and wellbeing on the Greenwich Peninsula (one of the World’s Greatest Places 2021 per Time magazine). A 5-kilometer running/walking track follows the water’s edge. Outdoor meditation pods, wellbeing workshops, and a gym make it an ideal place to walk, run, meditate or join a yoga class with an unbeatable riverside view. There is also an impressive public art trail with significant sculptures by Damien Hirst, Allen Jones and Morag Myerscough.

Therme Group already has water-wellbeing resorts in three German cities and Bucharest. Expansion targets include the U.K., Europe, Asia and North America. Under development are projects in Glasgow, Bad Vilbel, Frankfurt, Toronto and Manchester. “The Manchester property coming in 2023 reveals just how far beyond a ‘water park’ this urban wellness resort is,” shares McGroarty.

Set on 28 acres, it features 25-plus pools, an all-season urban beach, more than 30 saunas/steam rooms (and Sauna Aufguss performances), 1,500 trees and “living” water slides, fitness and yoga classes, a big urban vertical farm and arts programming. These parks “attract thousands of people a day, partner with hotels for those traveling, and represent a very different, super-affordable version of an urban wellness resort,” explains McGroarty.

GWS Trend
GWS Trend Gym

Upscale Urban Wellness

At the high end, the urban wellness trend continues at a brisk pace. “During 2021, when the concept of ‘home’ became synonymous with home office, gym, entertainment center, and space to retreat and relax, we saw the growing importance of incorporating flexibility in residential design,” said S.B. Architects President and Principal, Scott Lee. “Flexibility also became paramount for hotels and creating a less-defined program — such as multi-purpose public space and reimagined spaces for F&B, lounge, and lobby — will continue to be advantageous in the future.

Overarchingly, creating opportunities for people to decompress in urban environments, enhancing physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social wellness, and quenching a thirst for the outdoors will be key drivers for architects and designers in 2022.” Big wellness hospitality groups plan to open dozens of properties in the near future.

New properties for Six Senses include Rome later this year; London and Kyoto in 2023; and Lisbon, Bangkok, Istanbul and Shanghai. CEO Neil Jacobs recently discussed a new concept for wellness membership clubs, Six Senses Place, that will be integrated into their urban hotel-residential properties.

Future of Wellness report

Aman is also making major urban wellness moves with new properties slated for cities from Miami Beach to Tokyo. The Aman New York hotel and residences, slated to begin taking reservations in late July, incorporates three floors dedicated to holistic wellbeing and a 25,000-square-foot spa.

As part of One Beverly Hills, a planned 17.5-acre lifestyle campus, Aman plans to open a hotel, residences and Aman Club open to residents. Plans for One Beverly Hills create a new vision for urban architecture with flowers and greenery cascading from decks and terraces. The defining feature of this green oasis will be eight lush acres, with 13 curated gardens that will feature native and cultivated Southern California species.

In the U.S., Equinox Hotels opened its first property at New York’s Hudson Yards in 2019, complete with a dizzying array of wellness programs — from biohacking treatments to personal sleep coaching. Expectations are Equinox Hotels will build 33 properties (mostly in key cities) in the next decade, with 15 already in the pipeline.

Urban wellness might be singled out as a future trend, but all these examples illustrate it’s well on the way to becoming a reality.