News Article | 7/11/2008

Designing a connected community

How do you turn 17,000 acres, 5,000 acres or even 300 acres into a single community that works?By thinking about what kinds of infrastructure, amenities, recreation and vocational opportunities will attract residents to the area over the long haul, community planners and developers say.”We try to understand what [and who] that user is, and that’s not easy to do,” notes Robert Folzenlogen, director of planning and design for AllianceTexas Hillwood Properties. The company is developing Alliance Town Center, a 1,000-acre piece of a 17,000-acre parcel outside Dallas.When thinking about the Alliance Town Center and who will use it, Folzenlogen is thinking about five or six types of users, including individuals, young married couples, families with children and empty nesters.

“You’re probably thinking about five or six different users” in different stages of life, he explains. “They’ll need health services, education, entertainment, daily services. We look at what they need for medical, emergency care, a lifestyle that supports healthy living, with fitness centers, for example, emergency and acute care, assisted active living, and assisted living and retirement.”Sam Colgan, president of Pulte Homes’ Phoenix West Valley division, says planning a senior community means looking at two things: “function and value in an integrated design that would facilitate their participation in the lifestyle of the community.”But to create a community with longevity, Colgan says, the design has to feed the wants of today and tomorrow. “We have to understand the consumer, and not just replicate what we’ve done before,” he says.Colgan says Del Webb’s Sun City communities have been evolving along with the consumer. “They’re living longer, smarter and healthier lifestyles, so we offer a lot of staged amenities. We engage the current population of the community and ask what we could provide differently. We try to keep function spaces as flexible as possible. We even get them involved in focus groups. This helps in smaller communities and even larger communities,” he explains.”Our customer is really different. They want a community. It’s not just all about the house,” notes Robert McLeod, chief executive of San Diego-based Newland Communities. “They could probably find the same house from the same builder two miles up the road in a standard subdivision and it would be cheaper. Our customer is really looking for that ‘tranquil, peaceful environment where I can hang out with my friends’ place.”One way developers build community is by creating infrastructure that keeps people together, like community centers, swimming pools, workout facilities and multifunction rooms that open up for big parties and celebrations.But developers are also building community by adding connectivity. Newland Homes and Del Webb build intranets into their communities, which allows residents to do everything from search the Internet to sign up for volunteer opportunities in the neighborhood.”We have a community intranet. In San Diego, at the 4S Ranch, they’re able to talk, blog, see the calendars for schools. They can see what’s happening there [in the community] that comes up,” McLeod explains. “Our consumer research tells us what consumers want and then we try to land-plan for those needs. Should we include ball fields and Little League diamonds because this is an area that is heavily saturated with children? Communities aren’t cookie-cutter, so we begin from there,” McLeod adds.