Growing Sociability: Integrating Communal Space with Development

Utah Land

A new day is dawning in residential development that can serve as a foundation for how people will be living for generations to come. “People are gravitating toward communities that foster their interests,” says ULI Senior Fellow Ed McMahon.

“Community is this generation’s golf course—of that I’m sure,” says Michael Watkins, founder and principal of Michael Watkins Architecture & Town Planning, based in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Developments that include a working farm and agricultural activities as well as those that promote health and wellness are dramatically changing the landscape and creating cohesive communities throughout the United States.


The Farm Stand at Agritopia in Gilbert, Arizona, includes a cooler that is open 24/7 and works on the honor system.

“Agrihoods”—which are development-supported agriculture or residential developments that revolve around working farms, and which usually include eateries featuring farm-to-table food or agriculture-based activities—are growing in number. McMahon estimates that 200 agrihoods exist across the country. They create a sense of community, produce nourishing food, and reinforce locavore and farm-to-table movements. Even if an entire organic farm is not part of a master plan, community gardens and edible landscaping usually are.

“We think paradise is coming. Our tomatoes are only 40 minutes old when we take them to restaurants. They haven’t been sitting on a truck for two weeks,” says Quint Redmond, chief executive officer of AgriNETx, a sustainable agricultural development company. He has been approached by developers from around the United States and China for advice on how to start agriculture-based communities and how to transform existing golf course developments into those that integrate agriculture.

“Agrarian urbanism is a complex pattern that transforms lawn-mowing, food-importing suburbanites into settlers whose hands, minds, surplus time, and discretionary entertainment budgets are available for food production and its local consumption,” says Andrés Duany, principal and cofounder of DPZ, an urban planning firm, in his book, Garden Cities: Theory & Practice of Agrarian Urbanism (Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment, 2011).


Farm-centered developments are designed in all sizes and shapes, from rustic-style family farms to the most luxurious, state-of-the-art properties. Agritopia in Gilbert, Arizona, 20 miles (32 km) southeast of Phoenix, for example, has as its focal point a 15-acre (6 ha) U.S. Department of Agriculture–­certified organic farm. This agricultural development, which is a total of 160 acres (65 ha), includes 452 lots with 452 primary residences (single-family homes), which were completed between 2008 and 2010. Also, more than 100 auxiliary dwelling units have been built on these lots that range from 850-square-foot (79 sq m) houses to 450-square-foot (42 sq m) apartments and 225-square-foot (21 sq m) guest rooms, which are great for grand­parents and students. An additional 150 assisted and independent living units opened in Agritopia in July 2014. By the time another 250 mixed-use residences open in fall 2016, Agritopia will have more than 950 residences.

“People who buy homes are looking for community,” says Joseph E. Johnston, developer and resident of Agritopia, which is on farmland his family has owned and worked since 1960. He added that community means people. “It’s people and the relationships they have—that’s really community,” he says.

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