In 1908 Henry Ford invented the Model-T, which led to a vast increase in the amount of Americans owning cars. This shift to a car-centered society was accompanied by a shift in the social landscape from rural to urban areas. In 1900, 91% of Americans lived in rural areas. By 1960, 70% of Americans lived in urban areas. As cities continued to grow, so too did the suburban areas surrounding them, leading to the phenomenon of Urban Sprawl. In response to the perceived negative environmental and social impacts of urban sprawl, planned communities were developed. The driving force behind Planned Communities is the idea of carefully laying out a town prior to construction in order to maximize land usage and increase efficiency. This contrasts with the standard approach to land development in which urban areas develop in a more ad hoc fashion. The graphic to the right shows how the world population has become increasingly urbanized in the last 50 years, a trend that is expected to continue. Planned communities are an important issue due to their increasing popularity as a response to the urbanization occurring in America and other nations.
The Rise of Planned Communities
The rise of planned communities has been tied to the two ideals of American utopianism and distrust of government . American utopianism is the idea that Americans prefer to build a new community from the ground up, preferring to focus on creating a new culture rather than changing the surrounding culture. A distrust of government entities such as public safety and public education has also contributed to the growth of planned communities. Security is a main motivating factor behind moving to planned communities. In one survey, 70% of respondents rated security as “very important” issue in the decision to live in a planned community . The same study showed that over two-thirds of respondents believed planned communities were safer than surrounding areas.
Proponents and Opponents
However, studies have shown there is little truth to this perceived safety increase. In addition, planned communities segment populations of people from public services. Citizens of private communities pay for their own services and have little incentive to contribute to the common pool of money used for the public good. Opponents of planned communities argue this trend is a “dramatic manifestation of the fortress mentality growing in America” .
Supporters of planned communities claim they foster social interaction through structural layouts such as community facilities and public parks. This is not always the case however. One phenomenon termed “new town blues” claims some residents feel loneliness after moving to a planned community in an effort to solve personal problems . However, planned communities continue to tout their positive social aspects. As leading community developer Andres Duany says, “In the suburbs you have backyard decks; in towns you have porches on the street”. Duany is one of the driving forces behind the New Urbanism movement and firmly believes in the social superiority of planned communities.
Levittown and Early Planned Communities
One of the first famous suburbs was called Levittown and was created by William Levitt in the 1950's. Levittown (originally Island Trees) was successful because it capitalized on the housing crisis of the postwar years by offering affordable housing to returning soldiers and their families. Levittown consisted of small, detached, single-family houses equidistant from New York City and the burgeoning defense industrial plants on Long Island . The media portrayed the suburbs as a life of luxury that every American family should strive to achieve. We can see this trend throughout popular culture of the time, such as the television show "Leave it to Beaver", which depicted the life of a stereotypical American family. Early advertisements for Levittown promoted a similar idea, claiming to be "the most perfectly planned community in America" .
One main effect of the population shift out of cities and into suburban areas was an increasing car dependency. As the amount of vehicles increased, so too did political and economic pressure to expand the road network so suburban residents could travel easier. In 1958, the Interstate Highway Act connected all the major cities in the US with highways . A demand for housing was met in the United States with government loans and other incentives to expand housing in suburban areas. Life in the suburbs became feasible with the automobile, which provided mobility everywhere, anytime. In post World War II America, the automobile, auto industry, urban road network, and suburbs grew together .
Lack of Diversity
This American dream to live in the suburbs also caused problems, most notably a lack of diversity and segmentation of the population. William Levitt was once quoted as saying, “We can solve a housing problem or we can try to solve a racial problem. But we cannot combine the two” . Levittown was designed to bring the American Dream to everyone, but continued to have a "whites-only" policy in its early years. Betty Spector, who moved to Levittown from an interracial neighborhood in Washington Heights, N.Y., remembered thinking, “‘My God, I've moved to Bigot Town!' " .
Along with a lack of racial diversity, Levittown and other similar developments suffered from a lack of structural diversity due to the use of tract housing. Tract Housing is a type of residential development in which many identical or nearly identical dwellings are built adjacent to one another , a style popular at the time. Tract housing led to mixed reactions, one example being Malvina Reynolds' 1962 song "Little Boxes". The song made fun of conformist, middle class attitudes with lines such as "little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of tacky tacky, little boxes on the hillside, little boxes all the same" .
This view of private planned communities as a form of racial and economic segregation began with Levittown and continues to be an issue today. In California, planned communities account for 60% of all new housing development, and has led to a withdrawal of residents from public society and a decline in voter turnout as individuals move into privately owned housing . Contributing to this problem is the continued development of very specific communities targeted at certain population sectors. For example, Florida's "The Villages" requires one residents over the age of 55 at each house and no permanent residents under the age of 19. . Twin Lakes in Cary, NC attempts to bring to life styles and design from Martha Stewart's "Home Living" magazine. . There even exists a community called Celebration, FL which is modeled after Walt Disney's Epcot and was developed by former Disney CEO Michael Eisner in the mid-90s/  The continued developement of planned communities since World War II has led to concerns about how population movement into these new areas will affect society. However, results have shown that concerns about negative social consequences of planned communities are mostly unfounded. . They are less diverse than other areas, but contribute little to area segregation. Regardless of these intitial results, it will be important to track the social implications of planned communities as their popularity continues to increase and represent a larger percent of the population.
Designing for People
The main goal of New Urbanism is to design communities for people rather than cars in order to move away from development based on rigorous separation of uses, and create more pedestrian accessible environments . There are many design principles to address within these pedestrian designs. Connectivity is one of them, which includes interconnected street grid networks that disperse traffic and ease walking. Mixed land use and diversity encourages the combination of retail, offices, and residential areas in one location. In conjunction with diversity of race, incomes, cultures, and ages, this mixed use provides an exciting environment for all residents. Increased density is a strong emphasis of new urbanism, placing more buildings and services closer together to provide easier access to amenities. This principle can be applied to both small suburban towns and to larger cities. Transportation is often considered in New Urbanism because people need to travel within their development, but also desire mobility to commute to other communities and cities. Networks of transit like trains and buses are encouraged to decrease the use of automobiles between different towns. All of these principles combine to create a more sustainable environment and provide a greater quality of life for residents .
Planned communities in the United States have been generally driven by real-estate developers, whereas countries in Europe receive sponsorship from the central government . American politicians are gradually getting more involved in the process of development. One such example is the organization of Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU), promoting walkable, mized-used neighborhood development, sustainable communities and healthier living conditions . CNU initiatives include working to change policy and design regulations in the practice of development, in favor of new urbanist efforts.
Elderly & Disabled
Planned communities offer proximity to retail and public transportation, which appeals to elderly residents that are unable to drive. On the contrary, most of the homes constructed in these communities are not very accessible to the mobility impaired, such as the elderly and disabled. New urbanist designers have been known to channelize the older design of multi-stepped houses with high above-grade porches, which limit access to those who have trouble walking.
Teens & Adolescents
Teens need social interaction and access to recreation and entertainment in their communities. In the suburbs, this can be hard to find because there is a dependency on adults to transport them from one point to another. The mixed land use present in planned communities provides a great environment for teens by introducing amenities like skate parks, sporting grounds, and entertainment hubs . Combined with the walkability of most planned communities, this environment gives teens a place to grow and stay out of harms way.
Business owners could thrive or fail in planned communities depending on the business owner's intentions and the demographics of the surrounding residents. Large, practical businesses like a grocery store may be fit for success in a planned community because it is a necessity to the residents. However, many smaller retail locations are often owned by mothers who reside in the community and are trying to start a small business . The problem exists because these mothers are rarely willing to keep the stores open late in the evening, a time when many retail locations thrive.
The social perception of the American home and the change in development patterns has evolved with the ever-changing innovations in transportation technologies. The invention of the automobile brought a new sense of mobility to Americans, and introduced the drive for expansion. Introduction of an interstate system allowed families to move out of the city into suburbs. Once in these suburbs, people grew dependent on their cars because amenities were no longer in walking distance. With retail, recreation, and work being located so far from residential homes, the amount of cars on the road and the dependency of citizens of on their cars caused a shift in power to the vehicles. With the vision of Andres Duany, new urbanists, and many others, development patterns of planned communities are focusing more on walkability and alternate modes of transportation, putting pedestrians and people back in charge of their mobility.
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