Creating Community through Common Spaces

Beyond curb appeal, thoughtful landscaping also encourages a strong sense of community.

Creating a sense of place with a variety of common spaces is crucial in multifamily buildings. But this community feel is not limited to the interiors. “It’s really important in housing development that there be [exterior] common spaces that can be used by the community that lives there,” says Los Angeles-based landscape architect Mia Lehrer, FASLA, president of Mia Lehrer + Associates.

Lehrer notes that the number of trees can make a big difference in creating a sense of place, as can having an appropriate number of benches, picnic tables and shade structures that allow residents to understand these areas as designated as an extension of their living spaces.

Adding character to this space is also important, so Lehrer suggests choosing hardscape materials for paths and entry areas that will have an impact. “The materials should be simple but [have] something about them that gives them a lot of character. It can be a material that’s not expensive, like concrete or gravel, but it [should] be detailed and carried through in a consistent way,” she explains.

Maintenance is a top priority

Perhaps the most important aspect to designing the landscape for a multi-housing community, says Lehrer, is in its maintenance. “It’s not just the sales job; it’s what it looks like down the line,” she points out. One of the best—and perhaps easiest—ways to maintain great curb appeal is to choose plants that don’t require significant maintenance. Some developers, says Lehrer, get involved early in the design process to work with the landscape architect and determine a maintenance schedule that will be an appropriate fit with the property’s maintenance crews.

For any designer, though, it is crucial to educate on-site building personnel on the parameters of maintaining the property’s landscaping, Lehrer notes, adding that her firm often provides a bilingual maintenance manual that includes a schedule of feeding, watering and trimming. Once the landscape is established, trees generally need to be trimmed once a year; shrubs should be trimmed three times a year. It is important, however, to periodically check the landscaping for any major problems.

Having a landscaping maintenance budget is key, adds Lehrer, since a lack of such often results in the manager putting off the care of some major issues, which can be detrimental to the landscaping down the line.

For year-round curb appeal, the key is “keeping it fresh,” she says. “If you can afford to have bulbs or other annuals in the spring, especially for people coming out of a heavy winter, it’s nice, but it’s just as important to have the trees looking fresh, shrubs looking healthy and signage and lighting clean.”


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