SAN FRANCISCO, California, March 31, 2004 — The explosion of planned housing communities in California in recent decades has raised a number of key questions for public policy: Are they simply enclaves for white, upper-income residents? Are they contributing to residential segregation? Do their residents participate as much in civic life? A study released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) suggests that these communities are more complicated than their conventional image might imply.
The report, Planned Developments in California: Private Communities and Public Life, finds that although planned communities are less diverse racially and ethnically than other neighborhoods, they are quite diverse with regard to income. In fact, planned communities have about the same number of middle-income households as other neighborhoods: 47 percent of households located in suburban planned developments have incomes between $35,000 and $100,000, compared to 48 percent in other suburban neighborhoods. In cities, planned developments have slightly more households, 46 percent, in the middle-income range, than other city neighborhoods, at 43 percent.
The study’s author, PPIC research fellow Tracy Gordon, says that this income diversity challenges some commonly accepted assumptions. “We found the populations in these communities to be substantially more mixed, particularly with regard to income, than is often portrayed.”
However, planned communities do house a disproportionate share of California’s highest-income residents: Between 22 and 26 percent of households in planned developments earn more than $100,000 per year, compared to 15 to 17 percent of households in other neighborhoods. Moreover, these communities are usually less racially and ethnically diverse than other neighborhoods. In planned developments located in cities, 60 percent of residents are white, 20 percent are Hispanic, 12 percent are Asian, and 4 percent are black, compared to other city neighborhoods where 41 percent of residents are white, 34 percent are Hispanic, 12 percent are Asian, and 10 percent are black. Still, to date, planned communities have had minimal effect on the state’s overall racial and ethnic residential segregation, accounting for about 2 percent of metropolitan area segregation, according to the study.
Another issue social commentators have raised is that residents of planned communities may tend to “opt out” of the public sphere. “Because these communities provide many of the services traditionally supplied by government, like garbage collection and street maintenance, there is concern that residents will participate less in the larger community,” says Gordon. “But we find no evidence that living in a planned community draws people away from civic or political life.”
On the contrary, residents of planned developments have higher levels of both voter registration and turnout than residents in other neighborhoods with similar income, education level, and racial and ethnic makeup: Voter turnout is 74 percent among planned developments, compared to 68 percent in other neighborhoods. Moreover, although voters in planned developments are generally more conservative, their policy preferences do not differ widely from those of similar populations in other neighborhoods (see page 46 for a breakdown of statewide ballot propositions).
The character and demographic makeup of planned communities will likely become increasingly important to policymakers and civic leaders due to their growing prevalence: Although planned communities currently make up about one-quarter of California’s existing housing, a full 60 percent of new housing being built in the state is a form of planned community (planned developments, condominiums, or cooperatives). Moreover, throughout the 1990s, 41 percent of new single-family home sales were in planned developments.
The Public Policy Institute of California is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research on major economic, social, and political issues. The institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett.