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 of Hillwood Properties. The company is currently developing Alliance Town Center, a 1,000-acre piece of a 17,000 acre parcel outside of Dallas, Texas.

When thinking about the Alliance Town Center and who will use it, Folzenlogen is thinking about five or six different 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 that 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 that 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 that Del Webb’s Sun City communities have been evolving as the consumer has evolved. “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, CEO 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 multi-function rooms that can be put together for big parties and celebrations.

But developers are also building community by adding connectivity. Newland Communities 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.”Seventy percent of the people go once online once a day to see what’s happening in their community. They really want to connect with their neighbors.”

“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.

To create a successful community, developers and planners are trying to tap into the trends they believe their residents will grow into. What are the future trends they see? Next week: What the next generation of communities will look like.

Published: Jul 2, 2008