Indigo in Fort Bend County, Texas
Courtesy CultivateLAND Indigo in Fort Bend County, Texas

No longer content with having to choose between an urban lifestyle and the conveniences of new suburban communities, buyers are now looking for the best of both worlds. New communities have always been a place to find a great home and the personal space that dense urban living could not accommodate. But buyers are now looking for more. They want a lifestyle that combines the best aspects of urban living with the traditional benefits of suburban living. Served by an industry that is slow to make dramatic shifts, these consumer desires present a tremendous opportunity for developers, builders, and designers to stand out in a crowded market.

There are three key trends that pull desirable aspects of dense urban living into suburban communities. Together these trends help create a more attainable, walkable, active, and engaged community.

More Diverse Mix of Housing Types and Sizes

First, a more diverse mix of housing types and sizes is a key feature of new community design. This starts with a wider range of lot sizes and can go as far as detaching parking from the homes entirely. A variety of home sizes creates a much broader range of price points. And the incorporation of neighborhood-friendly multifamily buildings opens up the community to a wider cross section of residents. This diversity in product types and price points is driven by broad demand. Due to changes in marriage and birth rates, large families have become a shrinking segment of home buyers, while single-woman and single-parent households have become more prevalent, contributing to a climbing market demand for smaller homes. Additionally, the spread of coastal urban populations throughout the country brings a familiarity with and desire for more variety.

Improved Walkability

Second, improved walkability is a major focus of new community design. Today’s homeowners are looking to escape the confines of their cars within their own neighborhoods. Designing streets with the pedestrian and bicycle experience in mind and no longer placing the car’s needs above all other users makes this possible. Walkable streets and trails dramatically expand the resident’s experience of a community and is a key part of creating a more healthy and communal lifestyle. Some tactics to improve walkability include narrower streets that promote slower speeds and alleys that move cars and garages to the rear of the homes. These features enhance safety and create a more beautiful street, encouraging a sense of connection between residents.

This renewed focus on walkability can be traced in part to the COVID-19 pandemic and the continuing changes to many working lives. With people spending more time at home, they are more interested in getting out into their communities. As a result, the quality of the environment around the home has taken on greater importance. There is great desire for people across all life stages—from young professionals and small families to retirees—to put down roots in a place where amenities are just a short walk away. And the walk from the homes to those amenities can be a great experience itself.

Austin Point in Fort Bend County, Texas
Courtesy The Signorelli Co. Austin Point in Fort Bend County, Texas

Lifestyle Experiences

Third, buyers are drawn to lifestyle experiences that rival what they can find in an urban center. They are looking for something special beyond easy access to basic services. The most exciting new communities have embraced this desire and are incorporating dynamic “third places” that bring a variety of spaces and activities into the neighborhood. This has expanded the idea of amenities to the point that they can become a central part of a resident’s everyday life and a core part of the identity of a community. In contrast to traditional communities, these lifestyle amenities can vary widely from one project to the next and present an opportunity to do something unique and noteworthy. Two exciting projects currently under construction near Houston show this in action and are earning a lot of interest from buyers as well as other developers and municipalities.

At Indigo in Fort Bend County, Texas, Meristem Communities has created a community with a connected 12-acre, mixed-use town center called Indigo Commons and a 42-acre working farm at its core. Indigo Commons will create new energy and engagement in the community with a wide variety of small businesses, including specialty food and beverage offerings, boutique shops, neighborhood services, and office and multifamily residential space. With a dynamic town center at its heart, Indigo has elevated the creation of a lifestyle experience to the forefront and carved out a unique mixed-use vision.

At Austin Point in Fort Bend County, Texas, The Signorelli Co. has created a community focal point that is at the center of everyday life. The first phase of Austin Point will be built around a reimagined village square with amenities that include a café, playground, and outdoor stage. The village square is a densely packed activity center that will be at the center of life for residents. Similar to Indigo, it will give people diverse choices for activities outside of their homes and be the backdrop to generations of communal interaction.

What is unique about both of these projects is the expansive vision for “amenity” spaces. The emphasis is on designing indoor and outdoor spaces to promote and host communal experiences that are part of everyday life. These are not amenities that will be occasionally used—these are central gathering places for residents to use every day that encourage a life well lived.

Embracing the Suburban Renewal

This evolving approach to community development is exciting for both developers and consumers. It promises more affordable housing options and supports a more well-rounded lifestyle that gets people out of their cars and into their communities. By returning to human-centered community development patterns, these new communities focus on walking, being outside, and face-to-face interaction with neighbors. Developers are recognizing that buying into a community is now more than about the home itself—people are making buying decisions based on the experiences they will have outside of the home. These new, urban-inspired suburban communities are broadening the possibilities of how we can live, work, and interact, heralding a new era of suburban development by drawing on the best social benefits of urban living.

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