Community Design Snapshot

Posted on November 10, 2022
This excerpt was originally featured on The Field, the ASLA Professional Practice Networks’ Blog and is just a portion of the full interview with the Community Design Professional Practice Network (PPN) leadership team. Norris Design Principal Stacey Weaks is the Community Design PPN Co-Chair.

This fall, ASLA’s Community Design Professional Practice Network (PPN) solicited updates from our members from across the country to give us a snapshot of community design trends in 2022. While past posts have featured members from the PPN’s leadership team, this time our goal was to hear from members and other professionals working in community design through contributions to this collaborative post.

Landscape architects play a pivotal role in community design—we are the connectors! Our designs convey vision in built form within the public realm around us, allowing people to experience unique spaces each and every day. Designers have a significant impact on new communities, redevelopment, and infill projects. As this post reveals, community design trends are ushering in increased density and smaller living footprints, which ultimately requires a balance of space for people to live outside their residences. This challenge presents us with the opportunity to be placemakers, creating authentic and enduring landscapes that allow life to happen. As we emerge from the pandemic shift, we’re tasked with strengthening the community experience that fosters connections between people and the places we live. The following content highlights observations from designers focused on community design every day, presenting a terrific snapshot of the current trends shaping the communities we live in.

Before we dive into the individual responses, here’s a look at what came in through a few Instagram polls about how landscape architects are designing right now:

 

Looking at the results of the full survey, in response to “How are you and your team collaborating today?”, 7 out of 10 of our survey takers are hybrid. Just two are fully in-person and one is fully remote.

For client interactions, the answers also came back mostly hybrid. A few stated that client meetings are mostly remote, while others are remote half the time: “Client experience is great and we are 50/50 between in-person and on zoom. In person for all key meeting and team efforts.” But for fast tracked projects, in-person interactions are critical: “We are meeting with most clients in person. We see better engagement and greater strides in moving a project forward to hit these fast pace deliverables.”

Many are trying to find the hybrid sweet spot, coming together in person when it makes sense to do so: “We are seeing a mix of meeting formats. We are seeing more in-person collaborative meetings these days. It is awesome to meet in person and roll out the trace. At the same time, we are leaning on virtual meetings for regularly scheduled team meetings. These are efficient formats to check in with a collection of team members and subconsultants. Our office relies on virtual meetings for our weekly all office meetings. The virtual format provides a level platform for our team to communicate and share input. We are continuing to evaluate the benefits and efficiencies of technology while we reengage with in-person meetings.”

Survey Responses

The Community Design PPN leadership brainstormed a range of questions for contributors to respond to as they wished, answering the prompts that appealed to them most.

Housing types/mix of uses: What is the current mix of housing? What is emerging?

  • The current housing crisis is driving toward multifamily, attainable, senior housing and affordable housing. Highest densities possible on available land. Multifamily mixed with fitness centers, sports venues, amusement uses, and limited retail or food and beverage. (Don Ryan, Denver, CO)
  • Multi-family, single-family for rent (Ryan Holdorf, Denver, CO)
  • We have observed the single-family for-rent category is rapidly growing in our markets (Colorado, Texas, and Arizona). This category has been emerging over past few years and accelerated over the past year in our markets. With the rising housing prices, this platform provides access to rental housing in established and emerging communities. Many of the single-family for rent communities provide a mix of amenities for the residents to enhance their living experience. This platform adds to the fabric of community opening housing opportunities to a broader economic base. (Stacey Weaks, Denver, CO)
  • Affordable housing continues to have an increased emphasis (Claire Eddleman-Heath, Flagstaff, AZ)
  • Phoenix has been booming for years now, especially recently with the housing crisis. I’ve noticed a ton of multifamily housing continually going up very quickly. We are definitely lacking when it comes to affordable housing as well as middle class single family housing. But right now, they can’t put up enough housing of any type to keep up with how many people need places to live. (Grace Macauley, Phoenix, AZ)
  • A 1,400-acre master planned community with the full spectrum of housing types, multiple urban residential communities, a 370-acre planned community for mostly single-family residential but some build for rent and garden apartment, a 254 unit build for rent community, and more. (Alan Beaudoin, Phoenix, AZ)
  • Single family, planned community housing and apartment housing (Alison Madden, Denver, CO)
  • We are planning and designing projects that include: SFR, TH rental, mixed use (retail ground floor/MF above), some traditional MF, and SF master planned communities. The strong leader is all the many rental housing types—still a strong market. (Rick Leisner, Dallas, TX)
  • Missing middle — duplexes condos, starter homes (Jen Cross, Omaha, NE)
  • Affordable housing generally; rental development (Dave Jordan, Waynesboro, PA)

Types of amenities: What are you designing for communities?

  • Parks of varying sizes and themes to cater to a wide range of age groups and preferences, community gardens and mobility hubs for all types of transit (Don Ryan, Denver, CO)
  • Active design and spaces for intergenerational families; universal and inclusive amenities (Claire Eddleman-Heath, Flagstaff, AZ)
  • Pool courtyards, gaming areas, multipurpose lawns, outdoor kitchens, fire pits, fire feature walls, shade structures (constantly using these in Phoenix Metro area) (Grace Macauley, Phoenix, AZ)
  • Mostly trails and pocket parks for single-family residential; great planned social spaces for multifamily communities inclusive of pools, outdoor living rooms, grills, board gaming, pickleball, dog runs (Alan Beaudoin, Phoenix, AZ)
  • Pools and pickle ball courts! (Alison Madden, Denver, CO)
  • Amenities are many, but pedestrian-focused usable spaces are a must; walkable designs for people of all ages and economic status; streetscapes are also very important — to be ‘complete streets’ for all modes (Rick Leisner, Dallas, TX)
  • Recreation amenities, community health amenities, public realm: cycle tracks, amphitheater, public mixed-use plazas, nature play, etc. (Jen Cross, Omaha, NE)
  • Pools, spas, outdoor work spaces, game lawns, passive and active recreation lawns, interior/outdoor use zones (Ryan Holdorf, Denver, CO)

Locations: Where are projects happening?

  • Infill sites in urban areas, sites once planned for big box retail or commercial are now being developed for senior housing and multifamily (Don Ryan, Denver, CO)
  • Two main areas: infill on brownfields in city centers or greenfields at the edges of cities or in unincorporated areas (Claire Eddleman-Heath, Flagstaff, AZ)
  • The entire Phoenix Metro area (Grace Macauley, Phoenix, AZ)
  • Urban infill sites for urban residential, suburban sites for garden apartment, build for-rent, and single-family communities (Alan Beaudoin, Phoenix, AZ)
  • Longmont, Castle Rock, and Aurora (Alison Madden, Denver, CO)
  • We focus on the 26-county area called North Texas. We are also working across TX, OK, and AR. (Rick Leisner, Dallas, TX)
  • Omaha, Detroit, Denver, Clearwater, rural Iowa, rural Nebraska (Jen Cross, Omaha, NE)
  • The Mid-Atlantic region (Dave Jordan, Waynesboro, PA)
  • Denver, Castle Rock, Westminster, Broomfield, Arvada, Wheat Ridge, Adams County (Ryan Holdorf, Denver, CO)

Scale of communities: What is the scale of the communities that you are working on?

  • A range from small multifamily sites with 100 units up to high density 7-story mixed-use sites with over 1,000 units (Don Ryan, Denver, CO)
  • At this time, we are working on 1,000+ acre master planned communities to multifamily to affordable housing to smaller infill projects. It is exciting to see the range of projects across our markets. The range of projects are addressing the market needs. Each project provide housing, creates community and adds to the public realm. Our design opportunity is to elevate the planning and design for each development to make this positive impact to the community. (Stacey Weaks, Denver, CO)
  • Individual mixed-use developments (Claire Eddleman-Heath, Flagstaff, AZ)
  • Anywhere from a few acres (usually multifamily buildings and/or townhouses) up to many acres for the single family neighborhoods (Grace Macauley, Phoenix, AZ)
  • 4 acres to 1,400 acres (Alan Beaudoin, Phoenix, AZ)
  • Our planning work looks at 1,000-acre places and our design work is around several 100-acre down to 10-acre sites (Rick Leisner, Dallas, TX)
  • 2,000 to 2 million (Jen Cross, Omaha, NE)
  • Small developments up to 10-15 units (Dave Jordan, Waynesboro, PA)
  • From 300-person multifamily communities to 800+ (Ryan Holdorf, Denver, CO)

What are the impacts of the current economy on work availability and overall project design?

  • Seems to be no slow down due to the economy because the housing crisis is overshadowing the other market forces (Don Ryan, Denver, CO)
  • The shifting economy is certainly creating headwinds in the market. Project costs have continued to increase, which begins to tighten our budgets for public realm improvements. We will continue to see this compress our design and construction budgets into 2023. Financing and bonding for projects are constrained, changing how projects move forward. Optimistically, there is momentum in the market; this provides an opportunity to catch up and balance market demand. The challenge with all this is interest rates, which at this level will slow our economy longer than necessary. The market is complicated out there, so continue to diversify. (Stacey Weaks, Denver, CO)
  • Construction continues to be challenging, with prices and supply impacting cost and schedule, have not experienced a slow-down yet (Claire Eddleman-Heath, Flagstaff, AZ)
  • I’ve seen that all professions within this portion of design are incredibly busy: the architects, civil engineers, and other consultants, along with us on the landscape side. I’d say the biggest downside to the economy on the overall project design is seeing a lot of value engineering happening where items get removed from our projects or redesigned more cheaply to save money because materials and labor are now so expensive. (Grace Macauley, Phoenix, AZ)
  • Housing design and development have been moving at a very rapid pace. Recently there seems to be a discussion of lending pauses due to elevated risks. (Alan Beaudoin, Phoenix, AZ)
  • The development of housing infrastructure and development around some of these mixed-use spaces are in the billions of dollars of investment. (Jen Cross, Omaha, NE)
  • Work availability is strong; project design maybe suffers a bit due to funding influences (Dave Jordan, Waynesboro, PA)
  • Colorado and in particular Colorado Front Range and Denver area is very strong and generating an abundance of work and high caliber projects (Ryan Holdorf, Denver)
  • Gas prices, escalation, long lead times, and higher interest rates (Alison Madden, Denver, CO)

Briefly describe one exciting project success in community design that you have achieved over the past few years:

  • Willoughby Corner is a 400-unit 100% affordable project on 24 acres in Lafayette, CO, and a collaboration between Boulder County Housing Authority and the City of Lafayette. It will provide a mix of housing types including senior, multifamily, townhomes, and duplex homes for sale and for lease with acres of parks and amenities within the community. (Don Ryan, Denver, CO)
  • Our recent work in Tucson on Saguaro Trails made an impact to create community in a new neighborhood. Mattamy Homes was committed to integrating a collection of parks and greenways to elevate the community in the Tucson market. Each park created a unique space and collectively establish a robust outdoor experience. In addition, the neighborhood embraced the extensive mountain bike park adjacent to the neighborhood. The trails maintained the overall network and improved access for the residents in the area. The parks and greenways resulted in massive interest in the community and truly established the neighborhood. (Stacey Weaks, Denver, CO)
  • Affordable housing community design that focused on activity and health and sustainability (Claire Eddleman-Heath, Flagstaff, AZ)
  • This may seems small, but getting pickleball courts designed into Gene Autrey Park in Mesa was a great project to work on. It was an element that the community was needing and wanting, and it was great to work on a project that may have seemed simple, but was important to a lot of people. Also, in general, just creating meaningful spaces where people can just be and enjoy is so important, especially with us having to deal with COVID-19 for so long. (Grace Macauley, Phoenix, AZ)
  • TerraSante is a 1,400 acre planned community in review by the City of Goodyear, Arizona. This community is being branded under the concept of inclusivity on land referenced as “sacred earth,” thus the name and brand. This community will include a regional medical center, approximately 4,500 housing units, parks, a school, and supporting infrastructure. (Alan Beaudoin, Phoenix, AZ)
  • We are working with Aspen Heights on a high-end rental townhouse community with excellent open space amenities in Frisco, TX. The city has a quality open space ordinance that for TH requires 15% of pedestrian useable space with a good design. We have gone through the process and it has improved our project. (Rick Leisner, Dallas, TX)
  • Development of a new central library for the city of Omaha that rethinks how libraries are utilized and celebrated as a public incubator for thought leadership, socialization, equity, and inclusion. Designing a 100-year building and site that will flex as our needs flex over the next several generations. This will also transform the urban development of this entire area of the city. (Jen Cross, Omaha, NE)

What can we do as a design community to continue to elevate the quality of community design?

  • Meet the needs of the housing market by providing well-designed communities that also incorporate density to make them feasible and house more families (Don Ryan, Denver, CO)
  • We need to continue to elevate the impact landscape architecture has on the public realm. We are lucky to be the designer of the experience, the places and spaces people experience every day. We create the links that connect us, the parks where we play and the places where we live. We continue to innovate and make design more impactful. We need to be mindful; the evolution of design happens in iterations as we balance the external influences shaping our world. (Stacey Weaks, Denver, CO)
  • Understand the challenges facing communities and provide access to resources including nature, active lifestyle and outdoor recreation, transit, fresh foods and sustainability (Claire Eddleman-Heath, Flagstaff, AZ)
  • I believe that community input is essential in understanding and properly designing for the end users. Designs need to apply to the people that will be using them on a daily basis, otherwise they will not feel intentional and thoughtful. (Grace Macauley, Phoenix, AZ)
  • We can recognize what is happening around us and respond to our perceptions for social needs to create great places for current and future populations. (Alan Beaudoin, Phoenix, AZ)
  • Collaboration across disciplines (Alison Madden, Denver, CO)
  • Talk about how quality placemaking creates neighborhoods that offer better health, quality of life and retains higher property values for the owners (Rick Leisner, Dallas, TX)
  • Involve more people more often, engage the public through multiple avenues and means, go where the people are and be sure to include all voices (Jen Cross, Omaha, NE)
  • Trying to incorporate quality design through technologies that are cost-effective (Dave Jordan, Waynesboro, PA)
  • Greater community involvement, taking the time to learn the issues, being proactive and using the full spectrum of community design tools (online community share database, 3D, virtual meetings, etc.) to help reach all demographics and all abilities (Ryan Holdorf, Denver, CO)

How are you integrating innovation into communities through water reduction, green technologies, sustainable materials, low impact development, etc.?

  • Making the highest and best use of available land through thoughtful planning and providing density where appropriate. Encouraging solar power and water conservation. Healthy lifestyles can be encouraged through opportunities for walking and running on trails and exercise stations. Agri-voltaic systems can be used in common parks and gathering spaces allowing for the use of the sun’s energy to not only grow fruits and vegetables but also to power the irrigation systems. Encouraging alternative modes of transportation such as bus, bicycle and walking with the community design. (Don Ryan, Denver, CO)
  • With a focus on outdoor water reduction, native plants, sustainable materials, existing site conservation; stormwater quality measures unfortunately tend to be a direct product of policy and governing site development standards (Claire Eddleman-Heath, Flagstaff, AZ)
  • This is one thing I wish I could do more of. I try to always have these items in my mind, but at the same time a lot of our clients aren’t specifically looking for these items integrated into their projects. I try to be thoughtful with planting and making sure the plants are providing habitat/food/etc. for pollinators. I feel that is an easy way to support pollinators without any sacrifice to the design and what the client wants. (Grace Macauley, Phoenix, AZ)
  • Using the TerraSante community as an example, we are currently working on an extensive water model to promote sustainable supply, treatment of wastewater, and thoughtful effluent reuse. Our model assumes low water use landscape treatments and the development standards will encourage conservation. (Alan Beaudoin, Phoenix, AZ)
  • Solar lights are a big one and dry tolerant plant materials (Alison Madden, Denver, CO)
  • We utilize sustainability toolkits and resiliency calculators to analyze design performance prior to beginning design and setting goals early to ensure success of these metrics of performance. (Jen Cross, Omaha, NE)
  • Trying to incorporate more sustainable materials and water reduction (Dave Jordan, Waynesboro, PA)
  • Working to reduce the water use footprint by planting xeric plants, limiting or eliminating use of sod, promoting pollinator habitat, use of porous paving and LID technologies (Ryan Holdorf, Denver, CO)