The Pros and Cons of Planned Communities

Planned communities are a great way to resolve the conflict between developer, local government, politicians and the public when planning a new community. While developing clear plans, then challenging them in great detail, those who mourn the transformation of raw land into suburban sprawl have been able to impose enough of their requirements that many new, planned communities are getting better, are less problematic and are more financially viable.

Planned communities are self contained communities. Traffic outside of the community that is generated by new populations is often limited to travel to work, to urban government, economic, transport and cultural centers, and to major regional entertainment, medical, educational and shopping centers. Otherwise, the communities are laid out so that routine and daily shopping, school, services, recreation, local entertainment and other resources are included in the planned community, cutting the addition of more traffic in the built up urban areas.

The first issue of planning is in the ecology of the area. In one giant planned community in California, lands that were not used for farming or much else were converted into a massive new area of homes, parks, roads, shopping centers, commercial and industrial use. But these lands, a combination of chaparral and riparian biomes, were home to many life forms, including migrating birds and a host of ground animals.

Planners incorporated many rules for providing parks and landscaping with grass, flowering plants, shrubs and trees. Previous decades of planning created open spaces, protected wetlands, migratory bird sanctuaries and open spaces so that the vast majority of existing and migratory species have plenty of places to call home. Developers, bond holders, taxpayers and new residents were required to structure ways to pay for infrastructure development. The result was a massive are that supports retention of natural biomes and that regulates traffic in ways that reduce pollution.

The second issue of planning is in the services that new communities require. There are now formulas and models that (like the game “Sim City”) help to determine where and how many police and fire stations, schools, government service centers, and a host of shopping, entertainment and service businesses are required. The planned community not only provides places to live, it must also provide places to shop,  go to school, work and to do required business. This prevents residents from having to consume fossil fuels by driving to distant places for their routine and basic needs.

The third issue is in the medical needs that new communities generate. Planning helps to determine how to get people to second and third echelon medical care, to advanced medical care facilities, and to get to primary medical care. Much assesment is made to determine if existing facilities or medical centers will support the new population or if new ones or expansions in existing facilities are required.

Planning also helps to anticipate the type and quantity of law enforcement issues that are generated by various populations that fill the various types and values of housing. Apartment complexes, affordable and low income housing, senior housing, luxury housing and stand alone homes each offer differing challenges to plan for, including future deterioration of communities, migrating crime, economic crises, housing bubbles, job losses and other problems.

The fourth issue is in water, waste and power. There are calls for more efficient power production, state of the art wiring for power and telecommunications, which can lead to whole regional initiatives in power production planning. Community lighting, traffic control systems and other management systems require capitalization and planning.

Waste management and water treatment can be the drop-dead point for new community development. While existing landfill management firms are more than glad to take on new customers, there might be issues with the growing need for land that will go through the landfill and riparian restoration process, which takes a long time. Water and waste treatment requires a water source, capitalization and effective management of new plants, services and finances.

The final issue is in political representation and local government. In a rural or less populated area, the old political traditions and power players will be challenged by a large influx of people who have new and different ideas about how government should be run and who should run government. Many will come from areas that are a lot more forward thinking, urbanized, aggressive and savvy about the latest in technology and social engineering.

The results of a well planned community are fine to see. Everything from traffic management to open space management has been considered. There is enough new income to fund the government services that are required. The residents do not need to clog up the highway system in order to get food or services, even if they create rush hour traffic getting to and from work.

When any of the main issues are neglected through developer, public or political railroading, poorly planned communities can be a disaster, as in the case of one community in Northern California which found itself without water for months. It had been known for over a hundred years by the “old timers” who warned about the lack of a water source that could service such a large development.

In other communities, they are half built, a result of failure to anticipate the economic housing “bubble” of the late 1900’s. Now, the first residents have lived in a community of weed filled and neglected lots that are magnets for squatters, pests and criminals. In the worst cases, communities are built in flood zones, mountain fire hazard zones, or other environments in ways that would have been prevented if planners and residents had been listened to.

In summary, there are many “pros” to planned communities when actual planning goes on. The “cons” are more the result of deliberately ignoring the planners who anticipate fatal problems and who describe critical requirements.