Yes. Most consumers still prefer diverse suburban living.
Judging from their recent behavior it’s clear that builders and consumers believe master planned communities are good for them, with these communities reporting their strongest sales since 2007.
Consumers equate the planned community environment with quality, perceiving them to be a good value, providing access to amenities that they otherwise would not have access to. Consumer research consistently shows that a majority desires suburban settings with a mix of land uses. In fact, the National Association of Realtors’ 2011 home buyer survey found the greatest location preference across all generations to be suburban places with a mix of housing and commercial development, characteristics typical of a master plan. That same survey shows most generational cohorts, including Gen Y, prefer single-family detached homes.
The superior planning made possible by master planned communities provides:
- A range of housing styles and prices, in formats that let builders create products consistent with consumer preferences and resources;
- Sufficient scale to incorporate recreational and social amenities, shopping, schools, and employment in one location; in fact newer, smaller communities will be closer to employment centers, and some will become employment centers themselves; and
- Protection for the natural environment by being large enough to set aside meaningful open space, preserving wildlife corridors and sensitive areas.
Creating these kinds of built environments is more difficult to achieve through smaller-scale planning on an ad hoc basis. Such plans offer desirable lifestyle options to consumers seeking well-planned and attractive communities with types and styles of homes that the majority of buyers prefers.
No. But New Urbanist planners and developers must be more resolute.
Some argue that New Urbanism is folly—an impractical and expensive solution to something that, to their thinking, was not a problem to begin with. The term is misused to the point where it’s viewed as a muse for planning misfits, or dead on arrival.
In some communities, developers will bring a plan to the table and sell it with buzzwords such as “walkable,” “mixed use,” and “complete streets.” But review boards are often aghast at such radical ideas. Developers punt, and before you know it another segregated single-family subdivision, apartment complex, or office park is born. Other developers devise a town center narrative that would make Andrés Duany proud. Skip ahead to the typical eyewash zoning map, and find a dreadfully out-of-scale town center zone. Developers jump on board and, voilà, they have three downtowns within a mile of each other.
Despite all that, I am here to report that New Urbanism is very much alive. That is proven by the efforts of many to create or restore walkable communities. A municipality that failed in the past is still looking to adopt form-based codes. Town centers and corridor studies abound.
But the challenge remains: How can a community succeed? Start with a graphic plan that developers can use as a template. An orderly progression from center to edge is achievable with a zoning map and building standards that reflect the intent of the graphic plan. Put density where density belongs. Preserve rural landscape and natural resources. Enhance the quality of life.