Psychographic Segregation Coming to a Subdivision Near You

In California, some big developers aren’t just building houses — they’re building “communities.” They aren’t just targeting specific income brackets, they’re targeting “psychographic” profiles, fashioning housing types and neighborhood assets for people with different value structures. One enclave might be designed for traditionalists with religious values, another for “cultural creatives” with progressive values, and yet another for materialist strivers. The Washington Post thinks this trend may be moving to the East Coast.

Oh, great, as if the human proclivity for gravitating toward others like themselves wasn’t strong enough, now we have developers institutionalizing the process. The only way to counter the increasing polarization of our society is to encourage diverse people to interact, both professionally or socially. When everyone starts cocooning in neighborhoods of like-minded people, it will be all the easier to misunderstand, even demonize, the “other,” and all the harder to bridge the socio-political divides.

I wonder if anyone has discerned a market for neighborhoods with diversity in age, incomes, occupations, ethnicities and value systems. … Oh, yes, they have. They’re called cities.

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4 responses to “Psychographic Segregation Coming to a Subdivision Near You”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Balkanization, YES.

    If we all live as one big happy family we can all enjoy Newspeak equally.

  2. Waldo Jaquith Avatar
    Waldo Jaquith

    I saw this yesterday. If it had been April 1, I would have assumed that the Post was pulling our leg. I ended up reading a few paragraphs out loud to my family. I just couldn’t believe what I was reading.

    There’s so much that’s bad about this sort of ghettoization that it’s difficult to know where to start.

  3. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse


    Jim Bacon’s post on “Redefining Property Values” in the Sunday WaPo took us down memory lane again.

    This time it was not the failure of municipal and state governments to plan for sustainable New Urban Regions and avoid “natural” disasters. See “Down Memory Lane With Katrina,” 5 September 2006 at

    Our reflection was on how to use market preferences in a more constructive way.

    Thirty four years ago the partnership that owned the land that became Burke Centre, a village-scale planned development in Fairfax County hired our firm to plan what became home for 20,000 plus residents. They hired us because they thought our experience nation-wide with Planned New Communities might result in a more profitable project and because of the innovation we brought to the table might impress the then county planning director.

    We recognized a lot of the things that the WaPo story about Ladera Ranch’s developers identifies but took them in a different direction.

    We designed (and sold to carefully selected builders) 60 plus clusters so there were homes for every market niche. We even paid for a design competition to bring new, less expensive and more inovative units to the “traditional” Virginia market. Several of the clusters were below market projects done in cooperation with the county housing authority.

    In this way, at the dooryard- and cluster-scales the units catered to those with similar incomes, family sizes and, it turned out a lot of the same interests. This is the way the market works for every dooryard- and cluster-scale project–a good deal of homogeneity, at least for the initial buyers in a brisk market.

    We went a step farther. We created five neighborhoods made up of as broad a mix of the cluster types as the topography would permit. Each neighborhood had a recreation center and all shared almost 400 acres of common open space.

    We held meeting after meeting to orient the new residents to the concept of multi-level community structure.

    That was not the end. We created a three level home owners association so there was a level of governance for each level of settlement pattern component.

    There is cluster governance for the cluster scale issues (were common perspectives were most likely to exist). There is neighborhood governance where diversity exists. There is village scale governance to help foster “community” with a small “c” wide identity. That was critical in a municipal government that then had over 500,000 residents and now has over 1,000,000.

    There are fail safe provisions if some decided they did not want to bother with self-government and democracy. We found out a lot about how poorly citizens are trained to govern themselves by the contemporary education system.

    To paraphrase the WaPo subhead at Burke Centre: “By Design, Status Seekers and Tree-Huggers Do Commune” The sales slogan was “Community in Harmony With Nature.”

    Social engineering? Not quite.

    Intelligent economic, social and physical design.

    Did it work?

    Not as well as some of us hoped but better than anyone thought possible. The developer made money, the builders made money and at the 20th anniversary of the first residents moving in, the biggest problem reported by WaPo was that people did not want to leave so there was less turn over and so somewhat less (but still substantial) price escalation.

    We often note that the proposals for Fundamental Change in The Shape of the Future and in our columns have been field tested. A lot of that testing went on in Burke Centre.


  4. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse


    One other point:

    They used to be called “cities.”

    Most of the former land-grant ranches in Orange County turned planned developemts have become “cities.” Landera Ranch may too.

    Ok, Ok I am back to the Glossary.


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