I was out with a client this past week looking at some of our lake communities. Mid 30’s, a comfortable professional, married with a couple of small children. Like many mid 30’s professionals I see, he found Chapin too grand and expensive, while many of our older lake developments were too cramped, too rundown or too ‘suburban’.
His wife is working as a mother right now, raising the children, something I’ve been seeing quite a bit of in this 30’s age group. The plan is to buy a place here in the Catskills, where the wife and children will spend the bulk of the summer and the husband come up from the city on weekends, holidays and for the occasional summer week. Sound familiar? That was the common scenario during the heydey of the summer bungalow and cottage colonies in the Catskills that was chronicled in the romantic comedy Walk on the Moon. One of the big draws of the colonies was the built in social network for the wives and children who spent the weekdays here. Moms could take their children to the lake, pond or pool to play while they visited with other adults. After the kids were in bed, they could saunter over to a neighbor’s porch to sip a gin and tonic (or back then, more likely a frozen Daiquiri whipped up in the fancy new avocado-colored Waring blender!)
Hipsters may thumb their noses at the concept of bungalow colonies as hopelessly tacky. And architectural significance took a back seat to flimsy functionality. But those old bungalow colonies offered something we just don’t have today, at least in a modern version — community and connectedness. Kids could play outside and there was always a neighbor keeping an eye on them. Yes, the bungalows were close to each other and didn’t offer much privacy — but you could go next door for a cocktail and be within ear shot if you heard one of your children crying. There was always someone to talk to and someone to watch your kids if you had to run an errand.
You may say that I’m suffering a case of Ozzie and Harriet nostalgia for a world that doesn’t exist anymore. I don’t agree, because I do see that summer community cohesiveness in some of our older lake communities. But those older lake communities tend to be a little too run down or quirky and the cottages and cabins way too small for many of today’s 30-something buyers.
So where are the ‘bungalow colony’ equivilents for today’s young families? A development with cool, small houses, maybe clustered in a ‘new urbanism comes to the country’ plan, surrounded by protected conservation land. A development with gathering places — a great pool area with cascading waterfalls and waterslides and an adjoining bar and maybe cafe area, trails for hiking and mountain biking, a place to go kayaking or canoeing, and that all-important fitness center with good equipment for a workout on cold or rainy days.
Am I confident such a development would be a success? No. Because so many of the 30-something I talk with want ‘privacy’. But then in the next sentence I often hear, "What I am going to do when I’m up here with the kids all summer?" Seclusion and community are kind of polar opposites. But could there be a development that would be so cool, from an architectural and land planning standpoint, that buyers would give a little on the privacy thing in exchange for being part of a great community?