What is a Master Planned Community?

Master Planned Communities (MPCs) are urban-scale, mixed-use real estate developments where residents live, work, and play. They are built on undeveloped land, called greenfield development. MPCs are frequently located strategically on the edge of a city with strong projected urban growth. They are self-contained towns with clear boundaries, built for convenience, aiming to satisfy all needs within the community. You can think of them as the real-life version of Sim City.

MPCs usually have more than 1,000 residences and 247 acres (100 hectares); these numbers can be much more significant. Common amenities include cultural centers, golf courses, medical centers, parks, playgrounds, public spaces, restaurants, schools, sports facilities, temples, tennis courts, town centers, universities, walking trails, and more.

Private real estate developers typically develop master planned communities, in this case, called Master Developers. Master Developers must have the skills to craft a vision and coordinate a wide variety of real estate-related professionals that can help the project come to fruition.

Master Developers develop the infrastructure and public spaces. Using industry terms, they build everything “horizontally”; which includes basic infrastructure systems like sewage, stormwater, water, electricity, telecommunications, and roads. Master Developers sometimes decide to construct buildings or develop “vertically.”

The MPC standard business model is that the Master Developer buys a big plot of land, subdivides it; builds infrastructure and amenities; and sells land to anchor tenants like schools or universities. Some Master Developers choose a decentralized model where they sell to homebuilders to develop neighborhoods and commercial developers to build restaurants, shopping centers, etc. Others prefer a centralized model and align vertically to build residential and commercial buildings.

MPCs start by designing a Master Plan. Then it is built in phases throughout a multi-decade time horizon. They usually have a unified architectural vision encoded in the Architecture Code. All lots and buildings must be built according to it.

MPCs include a wide diversity of land uses, lot sizes, housing, and prices designed to attract multiple market segments. MPCs typically have private governance, such as a Homeowners Association, to regulate the relationship between owners, maintain public spaces, and enforce the vision.

Common marketing characteristics include great infrastructure, planned urbanism, housing for all age groups, a sense of community, a connection to nature, an active lifestyle, a healthy way of living, and convenience.

More often than not, urban development patterns are suburban and exclusively car-oriented. However, the New Urbanism movement has influenced MPCs making them more urban and walkable.

MPCs can grow very big and complex. Their evolution usually starts with a few residences, then to neighborhoods, then to a town, and then to a city. Company towns are prime examples of master planned communities.

Entrepreneurs who want to build ambitious Startup Cities can learn a lot from studying patterns of master planned communities and their Master Developers.

10 examples of Master Planned Communities



City of Irvine

Las Catalinas

Porta Norte

  • Website: www.portanorte.com
  • Concept: Solarpunk new urbanist town inspired by Casco Viejo and designed by Andres Duany.
  • Location: Panama City, Panama




The Villages

The Woodlands

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