In real estate developments across the globe, the definition of “amenities” is changing. No longer solely defined as activities and lifestyle features, amenities now encompass all elements that serve to enhance a location’s sense of place, organize its style, and add value through enrichment of experience. For several decades, golf has been used as an identity of manicured beauty, brand exclusivity and as a fabric for social connectivity. This paradigm is changing, as nature-based amenities are proving equally capable of providing visual interest, promoting community belonging, supporting connectivity to the outdoors, and generating return on investment. Parks, gardens, orchards, nature preserves, and the like can provide a powerful unifying theme that binds together the magic of open space, site topography, vegetation, and landform into a cohesive, thoughtfully planned amenity offering.

According to research conducted by American Lives, Inc., more than 75% of all home buyers rate natural open space as either “essential” or “very important” for their places of residence. Among specific community features that were ranked in the study, a neighborhood design that offered a quiet atmosphere and low traffic was 1st, while the inclusion of walking and bicycling paths ranked 3rd. In contrast, results from a similar study in the 1980’s differed greatly where home buyers listed tennis courts, swimming pools, and golf courses as their top “must-haves.”

Consumers are increasingly putting higher premiums on their interaction with the environment and it shows in their buying preferences. Growing demand for open space, trails, and greenway corridors is fueled by renewed interest in preservation of the environment, health consciousness, convenient access to recreation, and enjoyment of the outdoors. What were previously considered modest landscape elements have become prime attractions and key market influencers. The worth buyers place in these amenities is reflected by increased real estate values and improved marketability for developments that feature connected open space as a primary amenity.

In 1937, Gertrude Stein famously wrote, “There is no there there”, a quotation which is now used to describe sprawling places that lack vibrancy, pedestrian scale, and connectivity to place and history. Having a “there” is particularly critical to overall appeal, quality of life, and establishing a clear sense of place. People tend to gravitate to and remain in livable communities that incorporate these values – making it is easier to attract new residents, jobs, and build commerce. Carefully crafted development plans, codes, and design standards help ensure that developments fit in and positively contribute to a common vision. With thoughtfully planned and integrated natural open space, communities can achieve a “there there” in a way that extends for generations.