Community Builder or Consumer – David Twiggs

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To build an extraordinary destination community, we must realize our residents and visitors want to belong to a community rather than simply be a consumer.  We must create the seeds for citizenship.  We are often faced with a culture of community consumers not a group of contributing citizen community builders.

I spent 18 years living and working in the North Carolina High Country in the Blowing Rock, Beech Mountain and Linville triangle.  In this area, there was a proliferation of communities being built to meet the in migration, second home and rental housing demand.  Many of these were very well done creating a community personality that added to the cultural richness of the community.  While these were clearly defined areas they were relatively porous allowing exchange of communication, ideas, and commonality.   These communities were generally considered to be good engaged neighbors.

Other communities developed into isolationist monocultures that were generally considered unwelcome even after many years of existence.  These fostered the” Us vs. Them” mentality.  While they were successful real estate development projects in that they sold through and made the developer a lot of money.  They were not necessarily successful in adding to the long-term health of the larger community.

Consumers are like investors in a stock.  As long as the community is thriving, they receive their dividends in the form of quantity of amenity per dollar paid in taxes, dues, or fees and in increased property values when they decide to sell their investment.  Just like in stocks, owners change on a daily basis. If their dividends are not what they expect, they sell the investment. Since a community’s major dividend has been the lifestyle and perceived quality of life, the same dividend may leave one investor unimpressed while going beyond another’s expectations. A community cannot be all things to all people. It must enhance its unique qualities and values and seek those to whom the lifestyle resonates.  The one constant is that the people will eventually change.  With this come two schools of thought.

The American zeitgeist on what is considered of value is now shifting towards a citizenship point if view.  In response, we had better set up policies, governance and traditions that foster the unique authentic value in our community.  While enhancing and preserving, we also must celebrate individualism within that framework.

From a consumer point of view, there had better be something to attract the next purchaser for their business, home or property; the next “investor.”  While recent years has seen a decline in the investor mentality as a primary motivator for choosing real estate purchases, the change model holds true.  It is the value proposition that has changed.  People are looking for authentic lifestyle and an atmosphere that helps them become a contributing part of the community.

The mindset of a destination community being simply a marketable amenity delivery system has to change if a community is to thrive. In funding new development, the purchase and flip investor mentality made pre-construction sales to investors a reliable funding option until about 2008.  This has changed particularly if a destination wants to attract in migration in the second home and retirement markets.  We are now focused on an end user, a citizen, which is much more concerned with the authentic community values than the marketability of the real estate in the future.

Community must be defined as collection of human relationships rather than as a defined real estate space.  Many of the early pioneer destination communities were built with these more humanistic goals in mind.  In the 90’s and 00’s, many designs strayed for these values.  Creating fortified islands of monoculture did much harm to the traditional meaning of community.  The truly extraordinary places designed the governance structure to add value and enhance the region’s authentic nature.  This goes beyond the physical design of the neighborhoods.  There are many extraordinary places that have technical design issues that they continue to deal with as knowledge on neighborhood and civic space design evolves.  These places are extraordinary because the citizens are part of the positive regional dynamic rather than a separate protectionist subculture.

Now that some of our early pioneer associations are reaching 30 to 40 years old, we are starting to see some multigenerational ownership beginning.  Up until recently no current owners where born and raised in their community.  It was a created environment based on a theme that was quickly put in place rather than slowly evolving with the nature of the area.  There were no roots to speak of that would build a sense of citizenship as opposed to walking into a readymade ala carte consumer environment.  Mixed generation communities have faired much better over recent years than age restricted or retirement type communities.  Mutigenerational populations tend to vest much more quickly into the total community environment, both within and outside the association scope.  This is beginning to alleviate some of the challenges faced due to a transient consumer mindset that has been prevalent in community associations.

Boomers are not necessarily joiners.  The value of being a “member” is not nearly as prevalent as with prior generations.  There is much more value placed on being an individual engaged citizen.  This does not mean that the Boomer will not use the amenities of a community.  They may very well be more active than prior generations but the do not want any part of their “parents retirement community.”  They want to live in a community that engages their children and grandchildren as a family unit and individuals.  They want a “cool” factor.  There must be a new mental narrative about the community. They envision their grandchildren saying “let’s visit grandpa, he lives in the coolest place”. This is what the successful community of the future will be conjure in the mind.

A primary challenge is developing a real sense of citizenship.  Consumers look at the cost/benefit now and seek to extract as much product as possible for the least cost.  Citizen community builders have a longer look as they take responsibility in growing their community.  The sense of being a builder not simply a consumer is what builds community within our members.

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Fostering a Community of Citizens – David Twiggs

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While the concept of fostering a community of citizens is simple, the actions required are so individualized that they are impossible to speak of in generic terms are are difficult to do well.  Doing this well requires a sincere connection and  relationships.

These concepts generally fall into a few broad categories that must be individualized to a specific community.

  • Design and Relevant Programming
  • Interaction. Bring them together. Casually and Civically
  • Inform and Communicate.
  • Engagement in community discussions and decisions.
  • Provide Opportunities for Service

For a destination community to be truly successful, it must take an active role in shaping the development of the area that defines it.  Too often, the policy plan for does not adequately address the long-term health of the community after growth begins.  Your life extends beyond the confines of community jurisdiction. Redefining the function of the association is vital if the long-term quality of life and property values are to be maintained and the investment of the owners is to reach its full potential.

You can’t discern if a community is an extraordinary place by simply looking at the balance sheet.

Are people attracted to your community by the possibility of belonging to a vibrant mix of interesting people? Or did the come there in a fear based decision to keep “them” out? Do your visitors feel a sense of belonging or do they feel an outsider? Is your police or security department the first point of welcome or the first line of defense? Do your policies protect your tourism resources while fostering growth?  Are you entrepreneur friendly?  Do you have a structure to incubate entrepreneurial businesses?

Community associations have become another tier of government for 60 million Americans.  The focus has been placed on creating government rather than community. After many years of dealing with associations, most can be categorized into one of 2 characters. One has a welcoming open environment that celebrates individuality and diversity of thought.  The other is a fear based “us vs. them” mentality.    I have found that to those that have the “us and them” mentality, nearly everyone who comes into contact is a “them.”

Reimagining the functions of our community association governing structures is vital for the success of a master planned community.  Creating a place where citizens can thrive as individuals will allow a community system to evolve that is successful collectively.

Habersham Community Beaufort SC

Habersham Community Beaufort SC

Village Center at Habersham. Nice little village that is walkable and protects the most valuable land for public spaces. Designed by DPZ and is maturing well. Worth a look.