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September 26,2016 - Designing for community at Babcock Ranch

Submitted by Caffrey & Associates 3:03 a.m. EDT September 18, 2016

Kitson & Partners Chairman and CEO Syd Kitson grew up in a New Jersey town of 12,000 people.

Like most children who grew up in similar small-town settings, people all over town knew him, knew his buddies and knew his parents. His neighbors looked out for him. Shopkeepers called him by name. His hometown engendered a sense of familiarity, community and the feeling of always being welcomed.

Years later, after founding the company that bears his name, Kitson realized his small-town roots could provide a back-to-the-future foundation for the creation of Babcock Ranch, a new town being built by Kitson & Partners in Charlotte County that will ultimately include 19,500 homes, nearly 50,000 residents, and 6 million square feet of commercial space.

“A town means so many different things,” said Kitson. “It’s a place where you grow up, where you visit, a place with great gathering places. It has a living, breathing feel to it. When I was a kid, we knew every single inch of my hometown. The neighbors knew each other, and we took care of each other. Wherever you went, you knew people. It was a town with a personality all its own. And that’s what we’re doing at Babcock Ranch — creating a town with its own unique personality. We want it to be very relatable, a place that is more in scale for people, not so much a city, but a town where people can gather and enjoy one another.”

There is more to Kitson’s vision of Babcock Ranch than nostalgia. In many ways it is a reflection of how town making in the United States evolved in response to the baby boom of the 1950s and crowding in many of the nation’s urban centers. Nondescript, often hastily planned and designed suburbs were created with seemingly little attention to developing the personality and opportunities for human connection that are at the core of what Kitson envisions for Babcock Ranch.

“After the ’50s and ’60s, America got into urban sprawl,” said Al Dougherty, chief operations officer of the Communities Division at Kitson & Partners. “People were looking to get out of the urban areas and had an opportunity to buy homes with larger yards that were affordable. Commercial development and shopping centers came up to support that sprawl. It was somewhat reactive, and it wasn’t comprehensively thought out. There was no connectivity. We got away from the sense of town and place. Babcock Ranch is bringing people back to that small-town feel, yet it has all of the advantages that large towns offer. Every piece of it feels intimate. Those intimate pieces are connected in a way that creates consistency. And I think people are yearning for intimacy in their lifestyle and where they live.”

The planning and design of Babcock Ranch has been underway for more than a decade, and it continues to evolve even with construction of the town’s first residences and the first phase of the Downtown District underway.

The town planners have created opportunities for people of all ages to interact, to come to know one another and to experience the life at Babcock Ranch together.

Central to the design are the notions that effective town making is about creating places to which people will naturally gravitate; developing streetscapes that invite a walkable, bikeable lifestyle; incorporating neighborhood parks that offer children a place to play and neighbors to gather; providing every neighborhood with a trail head that serves as a gateway to the town’s 50-mile network of nature trails; establishing neighborhood gardens for neighbors to share; and creating Founder’s Square, a lakefront green space that will serve as a venue for community celebrations, concerts, civic events or simply relaxing with friends.

The town’s architectural styles are equally important to the sense of place Kitson is creating at Babcock.

Taking a bold step, the planners eschewed the residential styles prevalent for the past several decades that emphasize backyard living that by design tends to isolate neighbors from one another.

Instead, the Babcock style is derived from styles found in pre-World War II neighborhoods in Fort Myers, Naples and throughout Southwest Florida.

Deep open porches characteristic of these regional styles typically run the length of the front façade and sometimes wrap around one or both sides of the house, giving the homes their characteristic look.

These regional design principles are applied to the town’s residential architectural styles — craftsman, farmhouse, coastal gulf vernacular, Spanish, and Colonial/West Indies.

Grouped around Babcock Ranch’s parks and streetscapes, the homes and their porches will be positioned tighter to the street and encourage social interaction and connectivity.

“The design principals both from a planning and architectural perspective promote connectivity to others,” said Mark Jones, principal, Looney Ricks Kiss Architects. “You will know your neighbor, and you will know the neighbors down the street. Each neighborhood includes central parks and open spaces that are for the neighborhood and not reserved for the backs of homes. They’re out front and contribute to the community as a whole.

“It is not going to be a community where you pull into your garage and you shut your garage door and live out at the back of your house.  It will be a community where people actually come together. The relationship of the house to the sidewalk helps promote that.  It could be subtle. The differences between houses across the street from each other being closer together versus further apart, and the distance from the sidewalk to your front porch.  All of those have very subtle implications when you start adjusting those, and they all relate to how I connect with you walking down the sidewalk.”

The parks Jones referenced are key to Babcock’s town and country lifestyle. Whether living in a neighborhood in close proximity to the downtown district or living farther removed from downtown on a larger home site, every residence at Babcock Ranch will be within five minutes of a park. The combination of the parks, the trail heads offering access to the network of nature trails, the lakefront green spaces, and the community gardens is designed to provide an everyday connection to nature that can be shared with neighbors.

“One of the keys was making sure the neighborhoods have park spaces that people can walk to,” said Bill Waddill, senior vice president, Kimley-Horn & Associates. “We then connected the neighborhoods to the trail system so you can get on your bike or you can run and enjoy other parks in the community and even bike to Founders Square. So creating the park system on a neighborhood scale, on a community regional scale, and then on an urban scale and connecting them all with a trail system I think is a very important fundamental organizing principle to building this town.”

Rick Severance, president of Babcock Ranch, said: “Communities are about building relationships, and relationships transcend a particular segment of the market. It’s not just about a baby boomer or a 50-plus or the millennials.  We’ve created the environment so there can be this social connection, and folks may not even recognize that’s what it is, but it’s really mindful planning and being very thoughtful about creating environments where they can actually integrate together.”

To learn more about living at Kitson & Partners’ Babcock Ranch, visit babcockranch.com.