Retaining Wall.

DesignIdeation: Master Planning

Long before he became president of LandDesign, Rhett Crocker was drawing plans and imagining how communities could grow. Baxter Village in Fort Mill, SC was the first large-scale master planned community of his career, sparking a passion for drawing complex plans and building long-term relationships that come with lengthy buildouts. Today, Rhett is still drawing, but with a perspective that can only come with 20 years of experience.

Below, he tells us what he thinks the future of master planning looks like:

Q: Who needs a master plan?

A: I prefer to call it community planning. Master plans can come in a variety of scales and uses from communities to urban infill to resorts. Our job is to create the best vision for the place – for a community of people that we may never know. But this will be a place where people raise their families, start their businesses, earn their degrees, or relax on vacation.

Q: What’s the benefit of master planning?

A: It’s to have a better understanding of the long-term, so we know what to do in the short-term. These projects are built over many years and phases, so they have to be strategically planned and designed. Often times the most successful plans are those designed with the flexibility to adapt to changing markets, or uses. For LandDesign, bringing landscape architecture and civil engineering together on master plans helps us create a better vision for our clients and their projects.

Q: What do you know now about master planning that you wish you knew when you started out?

A: Sometimes we learn best by understanding what not to do, or what hasn’t worked best in the past. This all comes with experience and knowledge of the market and our clients. Once we understand how to think like our clients, we become better designers and advocates of their vision. The best experience we can get is seeing our plans come to life and always learning from that process to make the next one better.  

Q: What will happen to existing master planned communities in 10-20 years?

A: Diversity in uses, density and infill. We’re seeing ‘suburban’ models becoming ‘infill’ strategies — which is great as it keeps the infrastructure and amenities more integral to the community, rather than continuing to spread out. A lot of suburban communities are becoming more urban, and adding the density and lifestyle component will make them places people want to live and work. It’s the key to affordability and the solution to transportation and proximity issues.

Additionally, a focus on active and healthy lifestyles. This is not new, but there certainly is a greater emphasis on being more active and healthy. Whether it’s walking/biking to work or knowing where our food comes from, all of this is important to the communities we are creating.

Q: What factors are influencing master planning? (i.e. – technology, sustainability, transportation, etc.)

A: All of the above — and how technology, sustainability and transportation are connected to people’s desire for access to more time. I like to say, “time is the new anchor.” People want to live within a close proximity to work and amenities so they have more time to experience life and less time commuting in their cars. Technology allows us to be better connected with many resources at our disposal – which give us more free time. We’re living in a time where we trust technology to get us through daily tasks more and more. We have to figure out what that means to an evolving community design.

Transportation options and mobility choices will continue to be a large part of this narrative in the coming years. Major advances are being made in the transportation world that will lead us to less dependency on the individual automobile. It’s important to keep this in mind, as one day we’ll be planning with less parking, streets and homes with garages. What this will do to the next generation of community planning will be fascinating, but we know it won’t happen overnight.

Q: What trends are you seeing in master planning presentation?

A: Video, animation and virtual reality (VR). People have a hard time visualizing the scale of a project. We’ve used VR Goggles to let people experience a place before it’s built. Technology is key to showing people what the project will look and feel like in real life, and it’s amazing the experience it can provide to those not accustomed to looking at plans.

Q: How can we stay on top of trends and start defining trends within the industry?

A: Dedicating time to research. Studying our projects gives us information to help us make better decisions and create better designs. We are currently working with universities and other partners to help us understand perspectives and where other markets are excelling, which may affect the future of community planning.

We have to continue to understand the choices people are making in their daily lives and how that affects where they want to live and work. As we all become more connected to technology, opportunities we thought were not reality become the norm. Just think, less than 15 years ago we had no iPhone/Uber/Airbnb/Netflix/Amazon same-day delivery. It didn’t exist and certainly was not a part of every day discussions. Today, it’s the norm.

Q: What role do you think civil engineers serve in the master planning profession?

A: The biggest role! These communities are being developed over time, and ultimately, they have to be buildable and affordable. The beautiful places we create are dependent on the best engineers to design, and we have those engineers! Engineering is integral in the planning and design process for these communities.