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Username: Woodward

Post Number: 12
Registered: 02-2006
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Posted on Sunday, April 16, 2006 - 11:16 am: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Thought the forum might be interested, since a lot of discussion is focused on urban and suburban planning and "manufactured community"

http://www.washingtonpost.com/ wp-dyn/content/article/2006/04 /15/AR2006041501087_pf.html

Redefining Property Values
By Design, Status Seekers and Tree-Huggers Don't Have to Commune

By Stephanie McCrummen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 16, 2006; A01

The survey went to thousands of people who'd called a number on highway billboards announcing that Ladera Ranch, a new planned community in Orange County, Calif., was coming soon.

It asked predictable marketing questions, such as whether people wanted ballfields or trails. Then came a section titled "values."

"Please check the box that comes closest to how you feel most of the time," it began, and asked people to rate how strongly they agreed with various statements.

"We need to treat the planet as a living system," read one. "Abortions should not be legal unless there's a threat to life," read another. And, "I have been born again in Jesus Christ." There were questions about corporate greed, divorce, the merits of foreign travel.

And over the next several years, the results materialized across thousands of acres: For the more conservative-minded "Traditionalists," Covenant Hills, where homes have classic architecture and big family rooms, was built. For the green and soul-searching "Cultural Creatives," developers built Terramor, where Craftsman-style houses are fitted with photovoltaic cells and bamboo flooring.

At Ladera Ranch, now a thriving community of more than 16,000 people, various villages are tailored not simply to practical needs, but to what marketers call different "values subcultures."

"We were trying to characterize the lens through which people see the world," said Brooke Warrick, who heads Ladera's marketing firm, American Lives. "A community is a collection of symbols and images. And we wanted our symbols and images to be better than the other guy's."

As the largest building boom since the 1950s continues across the suburban frontier, the story of Ladera Ranch offers an extreme example of how developers are using the kind of sophisticated market research more commonly used to sell Hummers or Cornflakes to build the very places people live, and in a sense, to try to socially engineer community.

Whether it is actually working, of course, is another question.

Dan LaBelle, who recently moved into Terramor, doesn't consider himself particularly culturally creative. He said his neighbor turned his so-called culture room into a TV room with a 50-inch flat panel, and others in the environmentally oriented village have installed big swimming pools and $100,000 landscaping.

"The environmental stuff was a secondary concern, really," he said. "The truth is, I got a neighbor with a Hummer. I doubt he's very soul-searching."

It's not that the builders and marketers actually care whether buyers are right-wing Bible belters or left-wing tree-huggers as much as they care about selling houses. But large-scale developers are realizing that it's not enough to build a plain subdivision anymore. They must also manufacture community itself, which has become an amenity people crave, right along with tray ceilings.

This lofty mission has spawned all sorts of wild thinking among builders, one facet of which is the use of values-oriented surveys to design communities more deliberately, to foster a sort of social alchemy by affirming people's sensibilities.

There are fainter examples on the edges of Northern Virginia. Recently built subdivisions tend to project themes -- in Prince William County, Dominion Valley is country-clubbish with white columns and a golf course, and in Loudoun County, Brambleton has a more earthy, yet high-tech, feel with its rocky waterfalls, high-speed Internet connections and slogan: "Connect with life."

On the West Coast, however, the builders of Ladera Ranch, where house prices range from $800,000 to more than $1 million, have pushed the idea to a whole new level. And to hear Warrick explain it is to feel as though the Wizard of Oz has revealed himself at last.

"You write values questions people can agree or disagree to, and then you use some fancy statistical routines to be able to characterize who's in what group and how big the groups are," he said.

LaBelle, who bought his house because he liked it and as an investment, said he enjoys the sense of community that has somehow taken hold in Terramor -- the central paseo, for example, that encourages people to get outside and socialize.

To some extent, self-segregation has always gone on among people lucky enough to choose where they live. In the Washington area, it is no secret that liberal-leaning, vegan types tend to pick Takoma Park over McLean.

The difference, of course, is that out in the deserts beyond Las Vegas or the fields of Loudoun, developers are essentially founding entirely new towns from scratch.

"These things have always happened organically," said Robert Lang, a demographer at Virginia Tech who studies the exurbs. "What we don't have experience with is a contrivance of this, where it's engineered. . . . You target people, you catch a niche of preference in lifestyle, and it creates a community and intensifies the inward focus of the niche, like an island."

During the post-World War II building boom, market research was fairly uncomplicated: Millions of returning GIs needed a house, any house, and the results were the Levittowns -- vast, mass-produced subdivisions of sameness.

Since then, developers have typically sought out the basic demographics of potential buyers, such as their income and age, or simply built what sold yesterday. Particularly where demand exceeds supply, that is all they need to do.

But in the quest to entice people a few exits down the highway, developers are increasingly availing themselves of a type of research called psychographics, or some variation of it, to inform their decisions on whether to build colonials or craftsmen, dog parks or tot lots, to gate or not to gate, and in general, to decide how they want a community to "feel."

The concept, which assumes that people buy things because of their personality and values more than age or income, goes back to a 1959 academic paper describing the psychological differences between people who buy Fords and those who buy Chevys. It became popular among Madison Avenue types in the 1980s, particularly as computer technology enabled pioneering firms such as Claritas to merge vast amounts of census data with vast amounts of consumer data, creating dozens of personality-oriented market segments -- the "young digerati" or "money and brains" -- to describe the entire U.S. population.

Although this type of marketing is fairly ubiquitous now, developers have only recently begun to realize its power to create communities.

"People of a certain typology look for a certain kind of house or respond to a certain type of theme," said Len Bogorad, managing director at Robert Charles Lesser, a marketing firm that specializes in real estate and which has conducted values-oriented surveys for Washington area clients. "It's a type of marketing that for better or worse is part of our economy, and developers are catching on."

Before a shovel ever hit the dirt at Ladera, Warrick sent out more than 20,000 surveys to people who had called after reading billboards advertising the community or who had been shopping for a new house in Orange County.

He asked them to rate how important certain things were to them -- "making it big" or "finding your purpose in life." He asked people whether "extremists and radicals should be banned from running for public office" or whether they "like to experience exotic people and places."

To a large extent, some questions were aimed at finding out whether people would pay for eco-friendly features, and others were aimed at what Warrick calls "neighboring." People were asked whether it was important that they know their neighbors, or have organized activities, or privacy, for instance.

When the responses came back, they were sorted, and four psychographic profiles emerged.

As it turns out, there were lots of status-conscious "Winners" in Orange County, people who tended to go for the glitziest, most expensive homes in Covenant Hills. And there were a fair number of "Winners with Heart," a hybrid group of status-conscious people with a spiritual side.

There were the religiously oriented "Traditionalists," who, it was assumed, would prefer the more classic architecture there, and more family-oriented activities, such as the annual Easter egg hunt.

On the other hand, the "Cultural Creatives" tended to be more liberal-minded, environmentally oriented and "less into conspicuous consumption," Warrick said, and Terramor was built for them.

"Their houses might have a courtyard that conceals the front door, and it's kind of cozy and nest-like," he explained. "The materials might be just as expensive as what the Winner would want, but more understated."

Warrick has been doing this sort of work for more than 20 years. He's sold products from cars to console TVs and worked on a seminal ad campaign for Merrill Lynch, the one with the lone bull in a china shop. ("We told the ad agency, you don't want a herd of bulls," he recalled. "That's not the image for achievement-oriented people. You want an individual bull.")

But he said he is especially excited about his work at Ladera and the social chemistry that seems to have evolved there.

People are constantly organizing activities: Last Fourth of July, thousands came out for fireworks, he said.

"Neighboring is one of the biggest concepts in America," Warrick said. "People want connections. And as good community developers, we should recognize what it means to create community."

Recently, Lynn Gottschalk moved from Reston to Covenant Hills with her daughter and son-in-law and their two young children. She enjoys it there -- swimming in the heated pools and seeing the snow-topped mountains in the distance.

"Everyone is very friendly," she said. "Everyone looks out for each other."

But although her neighbors on one side are Iranian and on the other Korean, Gottshalk said that in general, there is a sameness to people in Covenant Hills.

"I see lots of blond women," she said. "I know there's a very high number of Christian-based families, and . . . How do I say this nicely? I think if I were gay, I'd never live here."

She did not know about the extensive market research, but when she found out, she noted that she does get a very different feeling in Terramor. A friend there has a master's in ecological engineering, and another is a social worker who works in inner-city Los Angeles.

Even Warrick jokes sometimes that Terramor is the liberal enclave and Covenant Hills is the conservative one.

"In one sense we're doing social engineering," he said. "In another sense we're trying to break down walls between people. They're all in Ladera Ranch. They might live in different neighborhoods, but they're all there for sure."

2006 The Washington Post Company
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Username: Eastsidedog

Post Number: 244
Registered: 03-2006
Posted From:
Posted on Tuesday, April 18, 2006 - 3:39 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

"There are many who are uncomfortable with what we have created. It is almost a biological rebellion. A profound revulsion against the planned communities, the programming, the sterilized, artfully balanced atmospheres. They hunger for an Eden, where spring comes."

Spock, "The Way to Eden,"

Let the rebellion begin. :-)
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Username: Iheartthed

Post Number: 20
Registered: 04-2006
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Posted on Tuesday, April 18, 2006 - 5:34 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)


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