Source: Gehl
Source: Gehl


It's not a Mad Max Rockatansky apocalyptic sequel or prequel, starring Mel Gibson or Tom Hardy.

It's not sci-fi. It's about our very real here, now, there, and tomorrow.

It's about a discourse among stakeholders that began last week in Miami with a meeting of thought and practice leaders whose deep knowledge, investments, and insights point directions for master-planned community-making in the months and years ahead. It's about where real estate and its very real, hundreds of billion-dollar human constructs of how and where and why neighborhoods come into being engage directly with the real world and its multitude of delicate balances among economics, environment, and ecosystem of interwoven organic and inorganic forms that invite life to flourish perpetually.

Running through the program's sessions, five key themes emerged, set themselves in motion, and coursed through FuturePlace's ongoing, meaningful agenda with power enough to drive action. Each of the five themes go back to a single truth, which is that America's dire need for more housing right now is not enough of a force-factor or motivator to make great places:

Source: Gehl
Source: Gehl
  • The work, investment, planning, and design to make a place for people--today, tomorrow, and decades from how--occurs largely before the first resident buys the first house on the first lot in the first neighborhood. The DNA of a place comes before.
  • Placemaking is an upfront commitment. Physical amenities--green ways, walking paths, public spaces, town centers, aquatics centers, etc.--are only half the equation it takes to make a place vital. People using and and engaging with and connecting through the amenity is an equally vital part of the equation.
  • Design intention and human-scaled experience in community development and planning are two different matters, with too often overemphasis on design intention and under-focus on what people's user experience is all about. "Learning how people behave versus how we think they behave" is essential.
  • Connection among people on physical platforms, community programming, and, critically, via their own technologically enabled social networks add up to removing friction from those connections and catalyzing the value and well-being that comes of relating to one another. A place's identity and soul emerge as importantly through Twitter and Instagram as they do through a fully activated town center.
  • The opportunity cost of community areas that can't be accessed for human activation and engagement is high--lost connectivity, sense of well-being, and purpose. All areas of a plan need to be intentional.

The discourse, FuturePlace, draws on experts whose learning from the past, full appreciation of the challenges of the present, and canny sense of what will come next create clarity and focus for goals, for investment, for action about something specific, something necessary, something problematic.

It's a discourse--about planned communities, about place-making, and human and natural world well-being and prosperity--that now has begun, but can never end, and can never trail off into theories of what-ifs, and risks, and rewards without action. Writer Wendell Berry gives almost perfect eloquence to the mission, purpose, and urgency of FuturePlace as he begins an unforgettable thought with these words:

"The wealth of a place is not to be reckoned by its market value at some given moment. Its real wealth is not just its present value, but its potential value as it continues through time..."

The train of thought Berry begins with these words becomes truly and forever meaningful to all of us who hold a stake in making sustaining and sustainable neighborhoods, communities, a home out of the raw and beautiful materials of a location gains perpetual relevance and significance with his completion of the thought:

"I am speaking of the life of a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children; who has undertaken to cherish it and do it no damage, not because he is duty-bound, but because he loves the world and loves his children."

In its core, its essence, FuturePlace is not solely a business value proposition but a prayer, a bold assertion of trust and belief in common values, and an invitation. It is the former--a value proposition--in that each master plan blends vision, household patterns, urban planning, construction, and real estate disciplines in ways fit to withstand macro economic cycles and thrive, from the get-go to the final phase.

It's the latter--a prayer and invitation--in its expression of faith that space, time, and all things living, human and non-human can coalesce and flourish as vines from a single root system. In this case, the single root system is a community, literally the common source of identity and vitality for a place, a time, and people.

The challenge of FuturePlace is the challenge of any business, and of any community, which is that, in our recent lifetimes, we've crossed a threshold in humanity. We've departed an epoch, where for all of time up until the present, people were most defined by their history. And, we've entered a new span of time, where for the rest of days we'll be more defined by our future. The power of FuturePlace is its engaged participants' and stakeholders' capacity to both invite dreams and shape memories among those who inhabit master plans of today and tomorrow.

Now, the take-aways, the discovery, the learning, and, ultimately, the value of FuturePlace aren't the recorded remarks--even the most brilliant insights and visionary ideas--spoken from the podium of the panel chairs during the two-day event's proceedings. Rather, it will be in the actions, the agendas, the commitments, and the investments that become the consequence of this critical discourse.

A central theme of FuturePlace in 2019 is a message of invitation. It's about human planning, technology, commerce, design, and building spliced with the earth's engineering and architecture into a harmonized intention. The assumption here is that when human and nature's intentions align, merging as magnetic partners that draw people to a location, those people can and do live happier, healthier, more fruitful lives.

Matthew Lister, managing director and partner in the New York City offices of Copenhagen-based urban planning consultancy Gehl, introduced to FuturePlace audiences the notion of communities as a suite of services that invite residents and visitors to be and become the people they want to be, experiencing places at human scale.

Source: Gehl
Source: Gehl

"There was a huge and interconnected conversation about people as an amenity and how health and wellness is a magnet," said Tim Sullivan, senior managing principal at Meyers Research. "The concept of the synergy that erupts and the creation of place that occurs when our atoms collide flowed though many of the panels and speakers."