Not Just a Neighborhood: A New Community is Part of the Experience Economy
Developers planning new communities in the United States have a blank canvas in front of them, which is perhaps why development is as much an art form as it is a science.
Now that decades of neighborhood life – and all the traditions that take place in them – are baked into the way people view the American Dream, there are more opportunities than ever to recreate what’s always been beautiful about an American community as well as add what they think homebuyers want more than ever.
For instance, a series of new build homes in Denver have taken these principles so deeply to heart that their communities consistently offer a variety of amenities and gathering places that most homeowners have always long for while also presenting them in innovative ways.
It’s the Experience that Counts
The “experience economy” refers to products and services that people buy because of the experience they get from partaking in them. Think of a movie theater with all the amenities or a wellness spa where the business has thought of everything for a nice long weekend. The movie might be great, and so might the pedicure, but it’s more than the products and services themselves: it’s the feeling of being in a particular place.
The same goes for a community of homes. It’s not just about a great house anymore, but where the house is situated – and this doesn’t just refer to a neighborhood. The “experience” of living in a neighborhood isn’t just about good schools or greenery. There are many more considerations that a developer can make to create a desirable community where homeowners can feel they are experiencing their dream.
Begin with the Basics
Considering a community as an “experience” is a great first idea to bring to the drawing board. But now, of course, you’ll have to get into the weeds a bit by working with government entities to ensure there is both demand and buy-in from important stakeholders. This is part of the job, and in reality it is one of the best tests of your vision.
You will continue to refine your ideas, make needed revisions, and meet the recommendations of the governmental bodies and leaders who matter. Keep in mind, however, that these stakeholders desire innovation too, so that they can keep their communities desirable. Don’t be afraid to follow current trends or break the mold when you test ideas – such as placemaking – which we’ll describe below.
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Ways to Bring “Placemaking” to the Table
In the real estate business, “placemaking” refers to how a developer goes about creating a sense of place for a community. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways:
- Consider the location of the land being developed. Are there unique characteristics such as natural features that should be incorporated into the design or the branding?
- Is there a historic element to this land? How could that be emphasized?
- What is desirable about other communities in this municipality? What would differentiate this new community while still maintaining a consistent “story” from neighborhood to neighborhood?
We think it’s wise to think about both integration of already-established ideas as well as creating a new experience for homebuyers as outlined in the considerations above. Here is an example of how new communities have acted on questions like the ones above:
A Lake Community for All
A Midwestern community was being developed near a lake. The developer didn’t want to create homes that bordered the lake while others were excluded from it. Therefore, the developer worked from the far end of the land being developed (called “working from back to front”) so that, in front of the lake, a green space could be included as one of the main entrances to the community.
If the developer had begun by building houses closest to the lake, this area would have felt closed off to the rest of the community. Now, the developer can name the community after the green space and the lake with a sense of pride that it is an experience for all.
They’ve even included commercial zoning on the north side of the green space which serves as a market and coffee house, and is branded like an old time general store where community members can have breakfast or bring a picnic lunch out to the lake. This inclusion also creates a kind of symmetry with the rest of the town’s tone and culture where outdoor hobbies are favored among community members because of the surrounding natural beauty and Midwestern charm.
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Reflect on Place and the Needs of All Stakeholders
When starting the process of building a community of homes, there is much to consider. One has to juggle the past, the present, and future of a place and the people who live there, and satisfy each of these to a certain degree.
Knowing a town’s history, its people, its politics, and what each stakeholder desires for the future are all a part of building a community that will continue to be desirable in the long-run.