Irvine’s Master Plan envisioned community pools as one of many gathering places. Each summer weekend, more than 2,700 children gather at city pools for the Irvine Swim League, which brings out families for fun, games and friendly competition.

Ask Alan: How do you create community?

by Alan Hess

How do you design a strong community? Create places where people will naturally gather to get to know each other as they go about their business, pleasure or just daily activities. These places are the meeting room at your neighborhood recreation building, where HOA meetings are held to discuss grassroots concerns. Or they’re the regional park used for celebrations, like Mason Park’s Nowruz New Year’s festivities.

Irvine’s Master Plan anticipated just how essential such places would be to a livable city. Beginning at University Park (Irvine’s first village) in 1965, Irvine’s early planners set the pattern for an infrastructure of community that’s repeated today at newer villages like Portola Springs.

You can see these opportunities for common ground all around. Besides neighborhood recreation centers with pools, playgrounds and tennis courts, there are the churches clustered prominently along Alton and Barranca parkways. Schools and libraries are often right next to each other. A mix of apartments, townhomes and single-family homes attracts a variety of residents – also an essential ingredient for strong communities.

Even shopping centers are designed to encourage community. Conventional suburbs have quick in-and-out strip malls in a sea of parking, while University Park Center (one of the first built) includes landscaped patios that encourage people to linger. We shouldn’t take such places for granted – Irvine pioneered them decades ago.

Irvine’s parks serve the same purpose, from large ones like Bommer Canyon to small vest-pocket parks scattered throughout neighborhoods, within walking distance of homes. Few details are left to chance. Their thoughtful landscaping offers shade trees and inviting vistas to encourage people to enjoy the outdoors with neighbors.

Does the existence of these places guarantee a healthy community? No – citizens must still accept their invitation to social and civic interaction, but these places offer the stage that encourages it.

Have questions about Irvine’s Master Plan? Write to AskAlan@IrvineStandard.com and I’ll try to answer them in future columns.