31 August 2023

Project InFocus: Realizing Visions, Designing Communities

Developers and engineers have mastered the blueprint in redefining urban living through the transformation of raw land into a master planned community. Incorporating major infrastructure, recreational facilities and breathtaking amenities, master planned communities are more than a subdivision, they are a development of an entire community with its own identity that lasts forever and creates an overall change in lifestyle. 

So, what separates master planned communities from smaller, individual subdivisions? In short, it is their size, scale and the overall investment from the developer, engineers and all coordinating agencies involved. Designing master planned communities can mean entering a completely new territory for some engineers. The level of planning and consideration of every detail is often vastly underestimated. Unlike a 300-acre development, these communities are made up of thousands of acres, and each tract is meticulously planned and strategically utilized.

Most smaller subdivisions are guided by the more immediate needs of a given area. Master planned communities, however, consider not only the “now” but also 15-25 years into the future—to meet both current and future needs and to set the tone for all future development in its surrounding area. Master planned communities generally take significantly longer to get off the ground. They take several months, if not years, on the forefront to plan before even beginning construction drawings. With much flexibility comes more opportunity to partner with various consultants from day one. This makes working on master planned communities special and unique because often times, some consultants like landscape architects are pulled into a project in the final phase to transform what has now been built into a beautiful aesthetic. In engineering master planned communities, all consultants work together in developing an all-inclusive plan and design from the very beginning.

Understanding the level of commitment, coordination and collaboration that goes into these communities gives insight into what makes these projects exclusive. Developers take on these projects with the understanding that their true return on investment could be several years away. These communities are successful because of the confidence, trust, dedication and patience that the clients and project partners put into each development.

Apart from identifying what a master planned community is and how it differs from other subdivisions, there are even more considerable factors that make these projects so special. The excitement in engineering these communities stems from no two communities resembling one another. There is not a one-size fits all, and each begins with a new canvas. Every tract is different in terms of characteristics, including if they have or do not have elevation changes, drainage issues, access limitations, etc. Furthermore, every client is unique with different goals, visions and their approach in achieving the final product. Planning around the identity, feel and nature of the development and blending the site characteristics with the client’s vision are all part of the creative process. 

Designing a master planned community is an artform that takes immense creativity to bring a client’s vision to life, something that can often feel unfamiliar to engineers. However, adapting to new challenges presented in each phase and orchestrating their solutions is an engineer’s dream. Some of the biggest challenges engineers and developers face in working on master planned communities are changes in jurisdiction, the economy, natural disasters, market shifts and the evolving needs of an area. A lot of the coordination on the front end of these projects involves communicating with the counties and various agencies in creating a sustainable guideline to maneuver some of these criteria and ensuring that engineers have limited stability to be able to plan for the next 20 years. 

With so many moving parts, it forces engineers to slow down and pay acute attention to the very fine details. Though focus may be concentrated on designing phase one of a project, engineers must simultaneously think about all potential future impacts through the last and final phase as well. Every move and every decision make an impact on the final development and its ultimate success. A decision made today will affect the decisions of tomorrow.

When a homebuyer purchases a home within a master planned community, they embark on a living experience that was designed specifically for them. Some of these projects are driving forces and gateways to establishing a name or even an identity for these cities. The best part in creating these communities is being a part of something so impactful and the integration of various practice areas to develop a plan and overcome new challenges together. The feeling of seeing the transformation of the first lot of a development to its last is filled with mixed emotions. A decade’s worth of commitment and dedication comes to an end but in reality, it is only its beginning.  

EHRA Engineering is proud to be a creative partner in engineering and designing master planned communities in and throughout the Greater Houston region and beyond. Every development we work on, both large and small, holds a special place in our hearts because we value our part in creating a home for someone else. Designing master planned communities like Cane Island, Towne Lake and many more simply allows us to challenge ourselves professionally, taking engineering to the next level and working as a team to create a lasting imprint. 

To our clients, we thank you for granting us the opportunity to bring your vision to life. And to all current and future residents, we hope it is everything we envisioned and more.