[I visited The Waters, a fledgling ”New Urbanist” community in Alabama, in early February. This is the last in a series of four articles about my visit there. The first three are The Waters: A Very Tight-Knit Community, The Waters: Kids’ Lives, and The Waters: How Town Planning and Architecture Help Create Community.]
Anyone who ever studied elementary economics can understand one of the primary reasons for the success of community spirit at The Waters: The supply of homes that are marketed for the great community around them is very low, while demand for these homes is very high. In fact, in the Playborhood survey we found that a large proportion of parents would be willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars, and many even hundreds of thousands of dollars, for a home with better neighborhood play prospects than their current home.
So, if a new development markets itself well as having great community spirit, it can attract lots and lots of families who want this. These families “self-select” by buying homes at this development. Thus, the development ends up with a bunch of community-minded families, and, voila!, a neighborhood with great community spirit is born.Of course, the marketing of community spirit should have at least some credibility, or else it won’t be believable. That’s where “New Urbanism” comes in. That’s the approach in urban planning and architecture that the creators of The Waters adopted. New Urbanists claim that attributes of design like high density, low or no fences, big porches, integrated retail, and narrow streets can help create community.
If homebuyers intuitively “get” how these attributes might create community, community-seeking homebuyers will want to live in a New Urbanist development like The Waters.
From what I observed, this is exactly what happened. Many of the first residents of The Waters I spoke with, who moved in two years ago, explained to me that they were looking for a place where residents would have close social bonds with one another, and they believed that the New Urbanist concepts described to them would result in a tight community.
These first residents have a very special feeling that also contributes to the community spirit at The Waters. I’ll call this the “pioneer effect” because these residents feel like pioneers. They came looking for community, but they came before there was any community. In addition, they all moved in there around the same time. So, they’re evangelists for The Waters, much like people who bought the first Apple Macintosh computers in the 1980s became evangelists for the Mac.
I experienced this pioneer effect firsthand in my visit at The Waters. These first residents were intently interested in explaining to me what makes the community spirit at The Waters so great. They are clearly evangelistic salespeople for their community. Twice during my late afternoon walk, people I never met before asked me if I was “the guy from Playborhood,” and then took the time and interest to their personal experience at The Waters.
In addition, in the videos about community on The Waters’ site early residents absolutely gush about how great it is there. Nathan Norris, the head of marketing who managed the creation of these videos, told me he was amazed at how overwhelmingly positive people came across in the videos.
The word of mouth marketing of these first residents is the best form of marketing because it’s highly distributed and inherently authentic. As Nathan Norris realizes, it’s The Waters’ greatest asset, and it gives that development a great opportunity to “scale” its strong community spirit from its present first village to the seven villages eventually planned for The Waters.