April 16, 2006

"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," and then you build planned communities. Are you going to buy the house with the "culture room" and a "central paseo" and live amongst other homeowners who bought the same architectural expression of survey-derived values? Is this really any different from picking a neighborhood that grew organically to have a particular cultural flavor?

The surveys sort prospective homebuyers into "psychographic profiles":
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."
The most interesting thing about this to me is what emerges after the people have chosen the houses. Does the Cultural Creative neighborhood really turn out to have creative people in it? Do the neighborhoods end up with people who fit the profile? Do the people within each neighborhood have better relationships because they've been grouped -- in some way -- by their values? And how different is this from the effect of more naturally evolved places -- places like University Heights in Madison, Wisconsin, where I sit and type out these words and think about moving downtown?

39 comments:

tjl said...

What a nightmare. These developments are reminiscent of the nightmare society described by Aldous Huxley in "Brave New World," in which everyone is programmed by genetics and prenatal conditioning to love filling the social niche chosen for them in advance by the World Controllers.

How much more satisfying it is to live in an evolved urban neighborhood whose character is the product of the people who have chosen over the years to live or work there.

FXKLM said...

tjl: Except that in this case people are choosing their own niche rather than having their niche chosen for them. That's a huge distinction. Whether people are choosing among communities that are created for that purpose or choosing among communities that naturally evolve, they're still making that decision for themselves. And, of course, even with the existence of these Orange County-type communities, people are still free to choose to live in communities that evolved organically.

You might find these places creepy, but no one's forcing you to live there. That's why the Brave New World analogy doesn't work.

chuck b. said...

More importantly, which neighborhood will have the best parties?

My bet is Covenant Hills.

Ann Althouse said...

Chuck, yeah, I was thinking, which neighborhood would be best for going Trick or Treating.

PatCA said...

I've looked for houses there, and it's not a nightmare at all, it's quite nice. It's an entirely new community built 10 miles away from any town, from scratch, so the builders wanted to determine, for instance, whether buyers preferred a private back yard or space for a community pool/band shell. Most preferred to pay for public space and let someone else take care of it, so that's how it was built. There's an intranet for residents complete withdiscussion groups, party invites, email. However, it comes at a price, which I guess an evolving urban town might, too, albeit more incrementally. You pay an assessment for your neighborhood pool and another for your country club type place. The town center and its activities are free. I think they are assessed extra taxes for schools, etc., since they are new. So that's an extra $600-800/month on top of the mortgage. Unless you have 3-4 really active kids, you would not be utilizing all this stuff to make it pencil out.

tjl said...

FXKLM:

The fact that people would actually choose to live in these Potemkin villages makes it even more disturbing.

J said...

"Is this really any different from picking a neighborhood that grew organically to have a particular cultural flavor?"

You know what you're getting with an established neighborhood. And since a lot of new homebuyers inexplicably pay no attention to zoning, they may be safer with something established.

Re the "grew organically" remark, I doubt the "Cultural Creative" neighborhood has any higher probability of having more creative people unless there's some functional reason that would be the case. The values survey markets homes based on the values the buyer wants to project, not necessarily the values they actually have, just as a seller would do in that organic neighborhood.

"How much more satisfying it is to live in an evolved urban neighborhood whose character is the product of the people who have chosen over the years to live or work there."

For tjl, how do you know that isn't just the social niche chosen for you? Check this out: http://dilbertblog.typepad.com/the_dilbert_blog/2006/04/free_will.html
I'm extremely happy with the suburban, master planned neighborhood I was programmed to live in.

A lot of considerations come before those discussed in the article, particularly transportation and schools. A master planned suburban development that guaranteed every arterial road within 10 miles would be widened to six lanes prior to construction would probably sell out before they could get billboards up.

J said...

"I was thinking, which neighborhood would be best for going Trick or Treating."

In the immortal words of Jerry Seinfeld:

"Wha-What did you say? Who's giving away candy? EVERYONE WE KNOW?...I can wear that..."

Ann Althouse said...

I don't see why people are finding it so offensive that market research went into the creation of a new product. Even if you prefer older neighborhoods, you must agree that new ones ought to be built. And if they are to be built, why shouldn't the designers do research on how people live? And why shouldn't the preferences surveyed matter? I actually like it myself! In my own old neighborhood, I see my backyards mostly as a buffer zone separating my house from other houses, and I like the way my front yard connects with a sidewalk that has pedestrian traffic. The street is narrow and keeps out cars. So it's a very nice place to sit and have a chance to see some people and maybe talk to them a little. If a new neighborhood were built to this preference, I'd probably like it a lot more than the standard suburban neighborhood.

AFFA said...

No one forces anyone to live in a burbclave in Snow Crash, either.

I don't think this would work for alot of people. I'm more or less libertarian, but that doesn't mean I want to live in a neighborhood of potheads. Unless they were discreet, of course. Overall, I think I'd prefer a mixed neighborhood.

Did anyone else misread "People of a certain typology..." as topology? Sorting people by topology is probably illegal.

Jake said...

tjl:

The mystery to me is why anybody would want to live in an urban neighborhood. What you are buying is crime, violence, bad city services, bad schools, high taxes and high insurance premiums. Urban neighborhoods are for people who are not happy unless they are suffering.

Planned communities have been built in America since the invention of the automobile. The favorite projected of almost every architect is to design such a community. Ladera Ranch is different because it was designed by the buyers rather than the developer. Ladera Ranch is for people who are happy when they are not suffering.

tjl said...

Jake:

What you are buying in an urban neighborhood (a more upscale one, that is) is a mix of restaurants, shops, and housing styles, not to mention a mix of neighbors. Instead of the cookie-cutter blandness of the burbs, you can choose from interesting little ethnic cafes or cutting-edge high style dining. Instead of the sameness of tract houses, you can opt for an apartment, a condo, a townhouse, and so on.

Urban neighborhoods are for people with needs and interests that extend beyond a longing for the blandest and most homogenized cocoon.

Pat Patterson said...

Yeah but, every kid at HB, Newport Harbor HS etc., knows that there will be more kooks, from careful neighborhoods, driving mom's Beemer to the Pier or Trestles and stealing all the waves.

L. Ron Halfelven said...

Did anyone else misread "People of a certain typology..." as topology? Sorting people by topology is probably illegal.

But you can't blame people for not wanting Moebius strip joints in their neighborhood. Or winos drinking Ripple out of Klein bottles in paper bags.

PatCA said...

tjl,
You don't know what you're talking about. Sorry. Have you actually been to Ladera Ranch? I live in a urban city now, and everyone is at each other's throats about what to do about traffic, a new sports complex (lights and noise), a hospital expansion (lights and sirens), racial self-segreagation, and rehabbing old residences. Not exactly a bobo paradise.

Always fun to throw in a reference like Potemkin Village, though, even though you used it incorrectly.

Maxine Weiss said...

I'm always surprised, leaving Southern California, and seeing how, in other States, the residential communities don't have fences.

In S. Cal, we love our fences....and I'm talking really decorative ones with distinctive brick, etc...

tjl: I don't know what you mean by "evolved urban neighborhood".

People are wild cards, even with they look the same. I like neighborhoods that are a hodge-podge, sort of organic mish-mash. It's very American----ticky-tacky tract home suburbs.

I'll take that over 19-century Russia or Berlin, where the neighborhood consisted big cement public housing, nothing more than bleak, austere tenements.

Our suburbs with their winding garden vistas, buffer zones, and variety of tract floorplans, are some of the most sought-over.

Suburban subdivisions bridge the gap between gritty urban, and rustic country. It's the perfect balance.

Peace, Maxine

Maxine Weiss said...

The photo shows the absolute worst (as usual) of Ladera. Not all of the villages are that cookie-cutter.

Now that I don't like, (the bland sameness) and it does look mass-produced. Remember the closing on "All In The Family"? Was that Levittown?

The glory-days for master-planned communities were the 1970s, late 1960s.....because they varied the floorplans, and no two like floorplans were put next to each other. And lot sizes were a little bit larger, not much though.

The nicest are the ranch-tract homes ie Eichler etc. The ones in the picture look more Cape-Cod, a cheap, squeezed Cape Cod on postage stamp lots. That truly doesn't represent the majority of tract homes in Orange County, or S. Cal. So much more variety than that article would lead you to believe!

When are you moving out here, Ann?

Peace, Maxine

Maxine Weiss said...

tjl: "These developments are reminiscent of the nightmare society described by Aldous Huxley in "Brave New World," in which everyone is programmed by genetics and prenatal conditioning to love filling the social niche chosen for them in advance by the World Controllers."

Hahaha. What you're describing sounds more like "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" than Huxley.

Actually, it's more "Babbitt" than Huxley. And even George Folansbee Babbitt had an epiphany and changed his ideology---which is why those surveys aren't very realiable in predicting the future.

The best psychiatrists have never been able to predict future behavior, at least not with any success.

What I don't like is the gated communities. I make the distinction between buffers which are trees, marshes, fields, etc, and buffer zones of the cast iron kind. I don't know what those gates represent, keeping the inmates in, or the unwashed out????

I'm fortunate, we live in an older 70s suburb, and our association took a vote and overwhelmingly rejected gates.

Hey, I guess we really do all think alike!

Peace, Maxine

chuck b. said...

I love-hate suburbia. But I love Suburbia! Those photographs were all taken in the suburbs where I grew up, just around the time I grew up in them.

Sometimes I look through my copy of the bok and remark to myself, this is quite literally the environment that produces a person such as myself.

Read it and weep.

SippicanCottage said...
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Art said...

These places "ten miles from anywhere else" will be really attractive with five dollar gasoline. And my guess is these babies have square footage galore. Don't come complaining to me when you get your first utility bill.

The reason people are moving back to central cities is that they are acting on subtle (maybe not so subtle) economic cues telling them that living closer to their job might be more advantageous.

J said...

"The photo shows the absolute worst (as usual) of Ladera. Not all of the villages are that cookie-cutter."

I guess it's my CA suburban upbringing - I've never understood why it matters if the rest of the neighborhood looks the same as long as I like the house and neighborhood.

I do like gated developments, and yes, it's to keep the unwashed out. My last house was gated; it's nice, especially when you travel a lot, to know anybody who wants to can't come cruising through your neighborhood looking for a house/car to break into.

"Instead of the cookie-cutter blandness of the burbs, you can choose from interesting little ethnic cafes or cutting-edge high style dining."

And an apartment that would fit in my living room for more than I paid for my house. Those of us living in the burbs aren't living there because we've never been in a city (speaking of cocoons). My job has had me in Manhattan 6-10 times a month for the last 10 years, and I've been to a lot of eclectic ethnic and otherwise independent restaurants there (San Francisco too) and let's be honest - the percentage of them that are any better than, say, Denny's, is very, very low. On the other hand, 90+% of the times I go out to eat at home it's because making dinner at home and cleaning up afterward are time consuming irritants I don't want to be bothered with, not because I want a great dining experience. Still, Manhattan is one of my favorite places in the world, and I don't blame folks for wanting to live there, though it's definitely not for me. Honestly, what's with the sanctimony? Broaden your horizons sometime.

Maxine Weiss said...

What's so adventageous about noise pollution and cement?

The socialist urban planners want to shove everyone back in those glorified mixed-use Tenements, that our ancestors worked to get away from.

I'd really encourage you all to read D.J. Waldie's "Holy Land: A Suburban memoir"---"Middle Class houses are the homes of people who would not live here".

Also, anything by Lewis Mumford.

Backyard barbeques and picture windows----that's what it's all about, folks!

Pat Patterson said...

sippicancottage: I though George Bailey invented suburbia?

Maxine Weiss said...

J: Have you been to Ladera? It's a nightmare. They look like a bunch of fancy shoeboxes. It's worse than living on top of eachother.

Coto De Caza (Real Housewives of OC)---now there's a TV show Ann SHOULD be watching.

Turtle Rock, Newport Beach, Irvine Company, The Porter Ranch Homes---(the original ones from the 70s), the Shapell homes.....

(Nathan Shapell was a Holocaust survivor who built quality tract homes en masse---don't know what the significance of the Holocaust thing is, but I guess the experience may have helped to distinguish quality in residences).

Levittowns, Scarsdale----those are the top-of-the-line suburbs. The GI bill wouldn't even get you a tour in there!

chuck b. : I love the crisp wood shake roofs. They've outlawed wood shakes in So. Cal, (fire hazard) much to my dismay. Now everything is either tile, or fiberglass---blah blah bland.

Also, in that one picture, is that a Ford Country Squire station wagon? Loved those, with the wood paneling on the side!

Peace, Maxine

Maxine Weiss said...

"I though George Bailey invented suburbia?"--Pat

No no no. It was Andy Hardy!

Peace, Maxine

SippicanCottage said...
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Maxine Weiss said...

The ridiculous amounts of money that the "urban planners" and social engineers pour down the sinkhole of inner cities.....the sham of "community re-development agencies"---The inner city is so far gone, it's not coming back!

The majority of Americans are not interested in communal living. If we were, we could always just go join a commune or Kibbutz---and we all know how exciting those are.

Peace, Maxine

J said...

"The majority of Americans are not interested in communal living. If we were, we could always just go join a commune "

Anarcho-syndicated or autonomous collective? I passed on that because I didn't have time for the bi-weekly meetings.

Haven't seen Ladera, and it might well be really ugly. But I'm not going to condemn those who like it.

rafinlay said...

The interesting question, to me, is how these "planned" aggregations of people will evolve. Imagining a whole community of "winners" (who want to have the biggest, most opulent house on the block) might be satisfying in a "they deserve each other" sort of way, but I can't believe they would all put up with it for long. They will want to move out to a (slightly) lesser place where they can really be the big dog. Then they will sell out to a "striver" (I just made that up -- do not look for it in any official sense) and ... there goes the neighborhood.

I wonder if any of these plannd communities would be stable over time. "Organic" neighborhoods aren't stable -- they just evolve slowly enough that people accept it.

Judith said...

"People would prefer urban life, if it was urban life from 100 years ago. But cities are corrupt and riddled with crime. I visit them. But then again, I go to zoos, too."

Only cities are corrupt and riddled with crime? Didn't Lizzie Borden take her 30 wacks down in your neighborhood?

Urban life 100 years ago was much more crime-ridden than today. NYC in particular is the safest it's been in 50 years. All the mafiosos are in suburban NJ - don't you watch the Sopranos?

Judith said...

PS I used to live in Austin TX - metropolitan area close to a million - about 2 miles from downtown, and I never locked my door or car either.

SippicanCottage said...
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SippicanCottage said...
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chuck b. said...

So what do you all do for fun and entertainment in the suburbs?

tjl said...

Sippican:
I grew up on the South Shore of MA (Marshfield) and it was pretty but dull, dull, dull. It wasn't until I went off to school in Boston that the richness and variety of life's possibilities opened up.

Maxine: if you think city life is a concrete jungle, go visit Boston for an example of a successful and human-scaled urban environment. Its neighborhoods of Beacon Hill, Back Bay, and the South End are mostly composed of 19th century townhouses interspersed with more recent buildings of all periods. The result is a diverse but harmonious ensemble of homes, shops, and restaurants which generate an active street life.

If only the climate weren't like Helsinki.

SippicanCottage said...
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Maxine Weiss said...

I love Beacon Hill. They have some of the most beautiful gardens I've ever seen. But, that's hardly middle-class. Very very very wealthy.

We are talking about middle class, or at least what used to be middle class, before inflated real estate prices.

Is there a middle-class in Boston anymore?

Peace, Maxine

Ciaran said...

Thanks for the late night chuckle. I am a Ladera resident with a healthy love hate relationship with my community.

Just for the record, we only pay one assessment and the waterparks and pools are actually quite spectacular for the kids. But Utopia it ain't. The scandals on my block alone are so much juicier than TV that I no longer watch Desperate Housewives. The most we have in common with our neighbors are that we all bought houses at roughly the same time. We're in the original part of the community and the evidence of crumbling dreams of perfection are starting to show all around us - homes seized and sold at auction, people cashing out to "move up" to larger Covenant Hills homes (Ladera Trivia - Covenant Hills has the most Sex parties). The little kids that moved in five years ago are now spoilt preteens with little to do besides vandalize cars and property. Teenaged boys - the blight of suburbia. But you know what? These cracks in the sidewalk and tales of unsavory characters here and there are making the place feel more real and less like a Disney set.

Some more Ladera trivia for you - better late than never. We have a very high crime rate for suburbia. Part of this is that there is much drug trafficking here. The proximity to the highway and sense of safety (who would have guessed that the biggest meth lab ever in CA was in the pretty apartments across the st from my kids elementary school?!) is a big factor. But the fact that we are unincorporated and policed by the OC sheriff's office also is a plus for criminals.

I've lived in enough places urban, suburban and rural to not over idealize any of them. We're here not so much by choice as by happenstance. Elderly parents nearby and this community had the best house and kids stuff for our dollar at the time we bought. Lucky for me that my work brings me into LA often and I can breath my breath of fresh smog and hear multiple languages and eat fried ethnic foods that scare the bejeezies out of my white bread neighbors.

My block is reputed to be the best for Halloween btw. One trip around the loop and the kids can hardly walk for all the loot. It is disgusting. People have to top each other and hand out costco full sized bars, toys, etc. On the plus side they also hand out cocktails to the adults. Its all good.

Ciaran