Thursday, November 30, 2006

Master-Planned Christmas

A tradition that spans three generations in my family took on a new dimension this season. Last weekend, as my children carefully unpacked and began to arrange the lighted Christmas village that my father made many years ago, I pulled up a chair—as I always do—and listened to their chatter.

My daughter, ever detail-oriented, used logic to plan where each piece should go. The stores, which include a grocery store, bakery, drug store and toy shop, occupy one area. The entertainment—ice-skating rink and restaurant—are nearby. The common area is beautifully landscaped, with a pond and bridge. Houses are connected by an elaborate sidewalk system.

Despite the fact that this was “decorating weekend” and I was barred from work by my family, I couldn’t help but mentally compare our tabletop village to today’s master-planned community. The miniaturized combination of residential, retail and entertainment create a dynamic neighborhood. The idea of “place-making,” so important to master-planned community developers, is clearly evident. The sidewalk links, the adjacencies, the aesthetics—all follow the master-planned model.
What this suggests to me is that planned communities aren’t rocket science (not that developers claim them to be), but are successful because they follow a natural plan. They are, simply, a carefully conceived reaction to what we’re all looking for in a community.

There is, however, a little bit of mischief-making in our village that wouldn’t be considered desirable in a real-life master-planned community. My son, probably feeling a little frustrated that his older sister was controlling the space planning, decided to add his own personal stamp to the township. One resident—a small boy rolling snow into a giant snowball—was moved from his traditional spot in the common area to a retail rooftop. Directly underneath, an elderly lady was positioned at the store’s entrance, frozen in time and forever (at least for this holiday season) the potential victim of a snowball on the head.

— Katherine Field

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