Masters of Their Domain: Master-Planned Communities Are Popping Up around the Country, Particularly in the West

Article excerpt

The sales pitches tout a variety of floor plans, meticulously arrayed amid lush greenbelts, great schools, quaint commercial districts and walk or bike paths winding endlessly through protected wilderness areas. In some places, amenities include breathtaking views and championship-caliber golf courses. But above all, the sense of identity attached to living in master-planned communities drives their popularity.

"People like the concept that there's more than just a house. They're buying a lifestyle," said Charles Kubat, a planning expert and consultant, currently advising on the development of Estrella Mountain Ranch, a 3,400-home master-planned community situated on 20,000 acres in Goodyear, Ariz.

Master-planned communities are often defined as cities within cities. They combine commercial with residential development, and are strategically set up so both necessities and luxuries are at the fingertips of their residents. The proliferation of these developments, particularly in the West, comes as no surprise to veteran planners like Ray Watson, a U.C. Berkely-educated architect and planner, and one of the American pioneers of master planning.

YEARS OF PLANNING

Master-planned communities took off in the 1960s in the United States. The Irvine Company was a major developer of such communities--modeling its approach in part after popular new town development efforts in Great Britain after World War II.

In 1960, Irvine Company proposed a visionary approach to developing Irvine Ranch, a 93,000-acre swath of prime real estate it owned in Orange County, Calif. It offered 1,000 acres to the University of California if the university would build a campus there. In turn, Irvine Company promised to surround it with a community supportive of the university. To help spearhead the effort, Irvine Company reached out to Watson, who along with other American planners traveled to Europe to glean ideas they could apply in southern California.

"The company decided we were going to plan all of the property and decide what it was going to be ahead of time," said Watson, now retired after serving as chief executive and vice chairman of the board at Irvine Company. "None of us knew how it was going to go."

Arrival of the University of California, Irvine, was followed by the construction of what Watson described as a series of villages that spurred growth throughout the Irvine Ranch until the eventual incorporation of the City of Irvine in the early 1970s.

"I think the university had a lot to do with the early growth of Irvine," Watson said. "The university gave credibility to the builder and to the concept."

SUSTAINABLE CONCEPT

Master planning did not just take off in Irvine, Calif., in the 1960s. An explosion of master planning is occurring today in places like the Phoenix metropolitan area and the suburbs surrounding Las Vegas.

In fact, some local governments require master planning as a way to help manage growth and provide cities with schools, parks, police and fire stations, and other infrastructures necessary to accommodate the burgeoning populations.

One such city is Henderson, Nev. …