Celebration, Florida - Lessons Learned - Integrate a Wide Variety of House Types, Sizes and Price Points within the Neighborhood
In America, unfortunately, we equate size with value. All too frequently, in our conventionally planned and developed neighborhoods this concept of size equals value is used to segregate and separate home sites and houses by size and price. To make things even worse, many developments require minimum square footages for houses under the false assumption that a 3,500 SF house and those who live in it are superior to a 2,500 SF house and it’s residents.
I am sure you have all seen it. You drive down a spine road and along the way, behind berms, fences, walls and sometimes gates are different sub-neighbors – each with its own name that is a divertive of the community name such as “The Gates at the Oaks”, “Oak Grove” or the “The Preserve at the Oaks”. Within each sub-neighborhood, or pod, the lots and the houses are almost all the same size. The price difference between one house and the next are minimal and typically the result of an interior upgrade to the kitchen counters or carpet. Frequently, each of the pods have their own design standards generated by the off-base logic that smaller houses don’t need to look as nice or be as well designed as large houses.
While this approach to size and price point segregation concerns me on many levels, perhaps the biggest is what occurs when an individual family wants a larger house or wants to downsize. Staying in their house, close to their neighbors and friends they developed over the years isn’t typically a viable option. Even if they could add on to the house, they would have a difficult time getting it properly appraised or be able to recoup the investment made because all of the surrounding houses are in the same tight size and price range.
Moving is typically the only choice. And, if there aren’t any houses in their neighborhood that can accommodate their new larger or smaller square footage needs, they have to move to a new and perhaps unfamiliar neighborhood. Relationships they developed with their neighbors can be severed. All the “emotional equity” they built up over the years is eliminated.
At Celebration, all the various lots sizes and house types are in close proximity to each other. Typically, we situated similar size lots adjacent to each other along a single street and had the same size lots facing each other across the street from each other. This was to create a balanced and composed streetscape. Transitions between various lot sizes occur across the rear lanes. The largest home sites, Estate Lots, which frequently contain the most expensive houses, might back up to Townhouse Lots, which were initially some of the least expensive houses. In some cases, Estate Lots back up to rental apartments and are immediately adjacent to Townhouse Lots.
Three keys factors allowed for this integration of various lot size and residential product types at Celebration to be successful.
1. Use the same residential design standards for all the houses.
The smallest and most affordable house had to follow the same architectural design guidelines, presented in the form of the Celebration Pattern Book, that largest and perhaps most expensive houses had to follow. While many elected to go far beyond the minimum design standards with regards to materials and level of detailing, they weren’t required to. This allowed a two house of different sizes to coexist very nicely on the same street.
2. Have no minimum square footage requirements.
While it didn’t happen very frequently, it was entirely possible for someone to purchase one of the largest home sites in Celebration and build a relatively small house. During my tenure as Celebration’s founding Town Architect, I worked with several families who wanted to buy a specific home site and build a “starter home” initially with the plans to add to it over the years as their family grew. Not only did this approach provide some additional flexibility and programmatic “future proofing”, it allowed them to preserve cash and/or reduce the amount borrowed. A great way to avoid being “house rich and cash poor”.
3. Focus on creating attractive streetscapes and outdoor rooms.
During our benchmarking research, we came across countless examples of modest homes co-existing comfortably on the same street with more elaborate and perhaps more expensive homes. What allows this to happen was the overall quality and harmony of the elements that make up the public realm. A beautiful street, which is one of the greatest value creators in real estate, is the great equalizer of houses of different size and values.
It might sound overly simplistic, but as the community developer, we focused on the development of the community – not the individual houses. For the individual houses within Celebration, we relied on the builders we selected to build within Celebration. (see Five Criteria You Should Consider When Forming a Builders Guild for Your Master Planned Community). What happens behind the façade of the house didn’t really matter. We concerned ourselves with the design and crafting of an attractive “interior elevation for the exterior room”. With beautiful streets and outdoor rooms, nobody really noticed or cared that the size and value of houses next to each other, or on the same block, might not all be exactly the same.
This approach to configuring lots within a single neighborhood was considered quite radical at the time. Prior to the launch of Celebration, we had several community developers and builders tell us that mixing different lots sizes in the same neighborhood would never work and Celebration would fail.
Fortunately, this approach is becoming much more commonplace, with several communities having their lots mixed together with even a finer grain we did at Celebration. What was done at Celebration gave other developers the confidence to integrate lots of different sizes. Rather than treating houses as commodity products lined up along a shelf, more and more developers are focused on creating real communities the can become cherished places of endearing and enduring value.