Planned communities often have a boring reputation, especially for those who don't live in them. In urban planning circles, however, they are excellent case studies in design and large-scale development. And they are wildly successful for families. Consider the fact that master planned communities grow from scratch, with every land use detail accounted for. I often joke that you can't find weeds in planned communities. That's because the landscaping is controlled as well, paid for by resident association fees or taxes.
|The City of Irvine's Open Space Trail along Jeffrey Boulevard is a 3.5 mile trail tracing the|
history of Irvine Ranch and providing a multitude of options for users.
From a design point of view, here are the most interesting features of planned communities:
1) The developers have so much land to work with that they can provide much more open space.
2) Recreational amenities, such as trails, artificial lakes and recreation centers, far surpass
3) Property maintenance is controlled through covenants, conditions and restrictions so there is nothing out of place. They represent a Totally Controlled Urban Environment!
4) The landscaping is often very extensive.
5) Over time, planned communities are getting more and more walkable, with a tighter blend of commercial, residential and open space.
LANDSCAPING - This is one of the most impressive aspects of planned communities. Their extensive use of medians, parkways, parks, and street trees gives on the feeling of being in the country (despite our Mediterranean climate).
|Mission Viejo's arterials travel through virtual forests.|
|The City of Irvine's landscape master plan even recreates riparian (stream bed) habitats.|
|The path at Rancho Santa Margarita goes all the way around the lake and is open to the public. RSM also put stores right on the lake. Earlier planned communities often restricted access to residents and guests|
|Called an "urban trail" by designers, this well-landscaped path ends near the Town Center.|
Lush it is and I wonder what the average use is.
|The Jeffery Open Space Trail can be accessed from the end of cult-de-sacs. It turns out that convenience|
and access are the biggest predictors of use.
|The Jeffrey Trail gives users the option of hardscape or decomposed granite.|
|Irvine's Open Space Trail is a historical piece covering three historic eras: early exploration, the Ranch Years (depicted|
here), and city building.
|My wife and I learned more about the history of the area and got some exercise as well!|
|Fun public art, for sure, but Rancho Santa Margarita's town center largely ignored the street and turned the store fronts towards large parking lots.|
|The public area in front of the movie theatre seemed to be the most inviting place in hang out in RSM's|
|RSM's City Hall, although a bit austere, evokes Spanish missions and the area's days as a Mexican land grant.|
CONCLUDING WORDS: Love 'em or hate 'em, planned communities are a fascinating example of what developers, planners and architects can do with raw land and a master plan. I admire their open space planning but hope that they will develop more vibrant centers over time.