Our world is constantly in a state of change. Just in the past few years we have seen the economy turn around, the lake levels fluctuate, and major technological advancements being made. Jay Leno has given way to Jimmy Fallon, cars can now park (and drive?) themselves, and I’ll bet that many of you are sporting the newest gadget that tells you the time, monitors your body mass index, and reminds you to call your mom on her birthday.
In terms of master planned community design, we are seeing a new generation of homebuyers entering the market as well as shifting tastes and preferences across the board. These changes are continually influencing the design choices we discuss with our clients and the recommendations we make for building successful communities. Recently, we sat down with the team from community association management company CCMC to discuss the evolution of community design. CCMC often works hand-in-hand with the design and development team to ensure we are creating places that can be programmed to fit the needs and preferences of future residents. So what’s new on the home front?
From birthday parties to farmer’s markets, concerts to scavenger hunts – communities are hosting a wider variety of activities and events than ever before. In terms of the amenity center, a flexible space often includes movable walls, furnishings that can be easily reconfigured, and the ability to transform indoor/outdoor space to accommodate different programming requirements.
The amount of outdoor open space in the community has long been a driver of success, but now we are seeing portable amenities such as movie screens, mobile block party trailers, and simple pop-up tents transform the usability of these spaces. Passive parks are becoming temporary yoga studios. Trails now lead residents to their next geocaching location.
“When neighbors are welcomed by visible amenities, this seems to create an expectation of involvement,” explains CCMC Corporate Lifestyle Director Debra Wyatte. “And when neighbors are involved and connected, communities prosper.”
Finding and embracing the story behind a community is also a means of enriching the experience for residents. For example, RVi is currently working on Headwaters, a new master planned community in Dripping Springs. Situated on the former Hazy Hills Ranch at the confluence of Barton Creek, Headwaters is drawing upon the site’s storied history as a homestead, playground, and sanctuary of the Pressler and Townes families. Headwaters has been designed so that nearly all of the lots back up to open space, with a plan that honors the natural land forms and preserves the sweeping pastoral views. Modern amenities like resort-style pools, a splash pad, and a fitness facility blend seamlessly with heritage landmarks like the Old Hazy Hills Cistern, barn ruins, and a star-gazing park.
Technological advancements in our everyday lives have had a huge impact on which activities residents find enjoyable. For example, the ability to provide wifi in public outdoor spaces has transformed our idea of a practical meeting space. Telecommuting can now occur in the park just as easily as the home office. At the same time, activities like geocaching, map my ride/run, and even “fitness on demand” via a smart screen has decreased our reliance on physical objects as amenities and refocused our attention on the space where the activity is taking place.
Technology is also affecting how builders and developers do business. For example, a mobile-friendly website is a must for attracting the new generation of homebuyers. Many of these buyers prefer to do extensive research online prior to ever visiting the community, and they are viewing websites on mobile platforms at an increasing rate.
We are living in a time where farm-to-market restaurants are popping up on every corner, and gardening is becoming cool again. As a result, we are seeing an increased interest in urban agriculture as part of community design. The existence of an on-site farm can be incredibly educational and rewarding for residents as they share in the process of growing their own food.
“When it comes to community agriculture, there are two main considerations,” explains CCMC Division President Todd Davidson. “The first is the experience principle. Developers must thoughtfully envision how residents will interact with these types of amenities, and how their interactions will shape their community culture. The second is financial sustainability. What type of financial mechanisms must be established in order to make a community farm sustainable over time? Will the farm be operated under the association, or will it be run as a non-profit? If experience and financial considerations are properly addressed, a beautiful community farm will ultimately become a treasured gathering place where neighbors can make meaningful connections and build community pride.”
Keeping Pace with the Future
In the past we saw large physical amenities like golf courses and recreation centers as the major selling features of a master planned community. While those large recreational elements are still important drivers of success, we have seen an increased emphasis on subtle amenities – coupled with strong programming by companies like CCMC – making a big impact. In the end, successful communities are focused on bringing residents together in a way that feels natural, engaging, and fun. As designers, we must stay in tune with consumer tastes and preferences in order to facilitate those meaningful interactions that make a community feel like home.