Master-Planned Communities for Millennials

Trends for today and tomorrow with master-planned communities and millennials

By Barbara Schmidt

When we think of master-planned communities or planned communities, we usually think of the se- nior demographic. When I googled “master-planned communities,” the top 50 came up listed by two different organizations according to national sales in 2019. The first list was by Real Estate Advisors RCLCO and the second was by John Burns Real Estate Consulting.

Many of the planned communities on both lists were designed and marketed to seniors and retirees, and both lists named The Villages in Florida as their top selling community.

But as I dug deeper, I found a variety of sub- urban planned communities just like one that I’d grown up with in Minnesota.

For those of you who may not know the area, in 1970, The Jonathan became the first new town in the United States to receive a guarantee of financial assistance from the federal government as part of Title IV of the Housing and Urban Development act of 1968. The Jonathan still exists today, having grown and evolved from a singular planned community into several neighborhoods. Some of the remnants the communities’ modern aesthetics still survive today.

I remember how attractive the idea of a planned community was to my parents at that time. There was a lot of civil unrest in the late sixties, and the promise of safety that The Jonathan and other communities like it were offering was exactly what they were looking for. The Jonathan was an architecturally designed contemporary community in a safe place where they would be raising their children and living a modern lifestyle.

Fast forward to today, and once again, we’re facing nationwide civil unrest while a new generation is looking to settle down. One of the safest ways for millennials to enjoy the urban environment is a planned condominium complex or planned community. I reached out to my former colleague Kate, a millennial, to ask her why she chose such a community when she moved back to Minneapolis over a year ago.

Kate cited safety as one of her reasons, but there were many other things she liked. She not- ed the maintenance and upkeep of the property and the amenities. My parents were looking for the same thing. The Jonathan was designed in such a new and modern way that it felt good just driving down the streets.

Smart, strategic design is the hallmark of great planned communities. Kate told me about her perfectly sized outdoor patio and the community spaces in her complex. Her building also hosts several types of workspaces in the common areas, and such areas are now in hot demand due to COVID-19. There are private conference rooms, semi private table areas, a large communal work- table, and semi private nooks for small groups.

In the ‘70s, working from home was something we considered to be exclusively the domain of the semi-retired and stay-at-home parents, while the rest of us had office spaces in commercial buildings. Now that we are experiencing a pandemic, one of the most significant transitions we face as a whole will be the mass adoption of home offices and remote workspaces. Offering a variety of workspaces, like Kate’s building does, will be the new standard for any residential development that wants to attract and keep tenants.

I asked Kate about how she feels living so close to so many other people during the pandemic. According to her, her development requires reporting to other tenants if someone has COVID-19, and every elevator on every floor has a station with hand sanitizer and wipes. Kate still avoids the elevators due to their lack of ventilation and takes the stairs instead. It’s clear that her community’s managers are making efforts to keep up with the challenges posed by COVID-19.

Clean air will be another trend in home design and master planned communities that will need to be addressed. How can we design spaces that allow for distancing ourselves from each other, and what mechanisms can we employ to clean the air? It turns out that air movement for dispersal of the virus is critical to stay healthy.

Another key factor that millennials and seniors look for is fixed costs. Knowing that some home repairs can run into the tens of thousands, having a fixed rent cost with a known HOA fee every month gives all demographics peace of mind.

Originally, my parents found The Jonathan held great appeal for their parks and amenities. In the end, they decided to design their own home and live on a quiet suburban lake instead. Now as Kate and her husband look to the future they are considering their time in downtown Minneapolis as a chance to learn about the North Loop area, try restaurants, and to walk theatres and shops before starting their family.

When we were chatting, we talked about how many more amenities she has with her planned community vs. with a starter home. For now, the pool, gym, and turnkey community spaces are very attractive to millennials’ quality of life just like they are to seniors. Millennials want amenities they couldn’t otherwise afford, and seniors want amenities they can easily and conveniently get to within their neighborhoods.

There’s a circle of life happening within mas- ter-planned communities no matter where they are located. Kate will most likely start her young family in their planned urban development. Meanwhile, my dad is looking to move to his first planned senior suburban community after visiting The Jonathan all those years ago.

Barbara Schmidt is a nationally published interior designer and marketing expert known for her authentic storytelling about spaces, places and trends

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