There are walking trails, swimming pools tennis and tennis courts. The landscape is well-maintained. If you didn’t know better, you might think you were walking the grounds of a lovely resort.

If you ask Janet Heilman what she likes about Cinco Ranch, the community she bought her first house in twelve years ago in Katy, Texas, she’ll tell you that the consistency of the community is the thing she loves the most. And, that there are good schools within walking distance.

Community is also very important to Michele Davis, who lives with her husband Joe and two children in FishHawk Ranch, in Tampa, Florida.

“It just had a feeling of kind of a small community,” she said. “It is really convenient. We’ve got really nice grocery stores, drycleaners, coffee places, and pizza places. It’s not unusual for my husband and me to walk up to get dinner. There are concerts in the summer.”

The big challenge in community design is creating something that will remain popular over time, planners say. It means following trends that emerge and mature and translating those into a design that works as the population evolves.

According to Robert McLeod, CEO of Newland Communities, in San Diego, says that leading a more active lifestyle has become one of the hottest housing trends, a trend that communities cannot afford to ignore.

“Hiking and biking trails are even bigger now. People also want active parks for ball games and outdoor play, and a lot of places to meet and greet [their friends],” he explained. “I know when we’ve designed a lot of our interior trail systems, we include destinations. So you can walk down the trail a quarter of the way and then there’s something there like an art object or a field of grass, where you can throw a Frisbee or play with your dog.”

The idea of having a community center, a central building that acts as the center point for all activities in the community, has changed as well. McLeod says that people want smaller places to gather.

“They want places for their teenagers to hang out, and places for garden clubs and bridge clubs to hang out. In some of our communities, we’ve put in small movie theaters that seat maybe 30 people. Those have been really successful. Parents will bring their children for Saturday cartoons or the newest Disney movie. Guys like to get together to watch sports, and women have gotten together to have ‘chick flick night,'” he explained.

When thinking about community design trends for a huge, long-term development, you have to focus on long-term strategic planning, explains Robert Folzenlogen, director of Planning and Design for AllianceTexas, a 17,000 acre master-planned mixed-use development built by Hillwood Properties and located in north Texas.

Folzenlogen says he looks at the future trends of the market, the future political landscape, future infrastructure and land issues, and how the company needs to prepare for the continuing development of AllianceTexas.

“We see more people caring about the environment and wanting to do something right for the environment. The big component for the people we’re trying to attract is the quality of materials from the buildings to the surroundings. Our future tenants also want to be part of a community and have the ability to walk to recreational retail and employment areas,” he explained.

A future trend that is being closely watched at Pulte Homes’ Del Webb division is how active Boomers are transitioning into very active seniors.

“We see a lot of active adults who are continuing to work. A lot more are working from home and longer in life. The integration of technology [into the home] has become very important to them. They want a chance to balance that with the recreational side of an early retirement,” said Sam Colgan, president of Pulte Homes’ Phoenix west Valley Division.

Paying attention to future trends now allows communities to remain thriving as they age.

Good community design can solve a number of problems, and give residents the opportunity to reinvent themselves.

“We have a lot of people who we sell homes to who say, ‘I’m not a joiner or a club person. I like the golf course.’ And we check in with the same people many years later and they have a whole new group of friends. Their family status changes, but the social environment [of the community] allows them to continue on to the next stage of life,” explains Colgan.

“It allows for the integration of the entire day in life of the resident. They’re able to go from morning to night and engage in what they want to in and around the community,” he adds.

When asked what life is like in Estrella, her community development in Phoenix, Jackie Lavin says, “It’s like a dream come true. It’s a small town, and homey. It has a rural feel due to the state land adjacent to us and acres and acres of walking and jogging paths.”

She adds: “And the people are friendly, too.”

Published: Jul 10, 2008