LDS Ward Creation – Applying “Missing Middle” Housing

Over the course of the past few years I have been analyzing the relationship between housing types and their impact(s) on the health and well-being of LDS Wards.  For those that may be unfamiliar with what a “Ward” is, let me explain to provide adequate perspective:

A “Ward” is a membership group (similar to a congregation in other religions) that is made up of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints within a determined geographical boundary. Within a membership group of an LDS Ward are a number of “auxiliaries” which include sub-categories of the larger membership group.  There is an auxiliary group for children (Primary), two for teenagers (Young Men & Young Women), one for women (Relief Society), and two for men (Elders & High Priests).  It is important to note that the reason for the different auxiliary groups is because each has different needs within the ward as an organizational unit.  The different groupings allow for each to have its needs addressed in a specific manner to those within their respective auxiliary group.

An LDS Ward also functions as an organization intended to both produce and provide service/welfare activity for the benefit of the Ward itself.  The optimal goal in producing and providing service/welfare activity within the Ward is to strengthen its own ability to be self-reliant – meaning it can generate a balance between its capacity to both produce and provide for the needs within the Ward itself.  The membership make-up of the LDS Ward is critical to its ability to balance between its production and providing capacities.  If the make-up of the Ward is too heavily weighted in the direction of needing to provide service/welfare without enough people to produce for the need within the Ward then self-reliance can’t be achieved.  The Ward must then go outside of its own structure in order to meet its own internal needs.

Figure 1 - LDS Ward Example
Figure 1 – LDS Ward Example

There is also potential sensitivity in providing service/welfare within an LDS Ward.  Service/welfare typically occurs in two ways; through the offering of time and/or money.  It is important to note, that the demographics within a ward can have an impact on how service/welfare is provided.  Both time and money are needed, but an imbalance of one or the other can generate constraints in a Ward’s ability to be self-reliant in providing service/welfare.  The demographics of an LDS Ward is a major contributing factor as to whether time, money, or both will be at the disposal of the Ward for service/welfare needs.

The understanding of an LDS Ward’s mission in providing for its members becomes a very important element in the story which is why there is interest in attempting to better understand the relationship between the housing stock within a Ward’s boundaries and the sub-categories of membership that the housing stock generates which play a contributing role to the overall health of the Ward to function as intended.  The significance of the relationship stems from the consequences that are emitted based on the degree of diversity that exists (or lack thereof) based on the associative mix of housing within a Ward’s boundary.

The relationship between housing and LDS Ward membership became an area of analysis as I began a collaborative working relationship with the LDS Church’s Meetinghouse & Facilities Department (MFD).  As we began working together we quickly identified areas of overlap as to where our specific responsibilities could become mutually beneficial as we worked together.  A particular area of shared interest revolved around the understanding that the LDS Church had, in recent history, been subject to reactive decision making as development growth occurred along Utah’s Wasatch Front.  With the concentration of membership along the Wasatch Front it limited the Church’s ability to proactively plan for and manage the impacts of growth as it pertained to the short and long term self-reliance of LDS Wards.  Since Conventional Suburban Development (CSD) growth is the dominant development pattern there are management challenges that ensue – most notably, large tracts of land area containing limited to no mix of housing types.  The reason for concern stemmed from the recognized link between housing and the associative demographics that are then tied to the available housing.  Housing has proven to act as a “container” of sorts for the emission of LDS Ward membership within the previously identified sub-categories.  If the containers are the same, so too is the Ward membership.  When this is the case it has been shown to lead to the creation of LDS Wards that seem to inevitably collapse on themselves within a 20-30 year life cycle, because there is little to no opportunity for the wards to regenerate – the homogeneous housing stock doesn’t allow for it.

Figure 1 - CSD Example | Country Crossing (South Jordan, UT)
Figure 2 – CSD Example | Country Crossing (South Jordan, UT)

Contrary to the CSD pattern was analysis of Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND) patterns.  The area of interest between the two development patterns revolves around the amount and degree of housing type mix emitted between the two development patterns.  Specifically, when a TND pattern was present there is typically a much higher level of housing type diversity within a more compact area in relation to a CSD pattern.  What this meant, upon precursory analysis, was the TND neighborhoods were more balanced in their emission of LDS Ward membership in the short term, and much better conditions for positive rejuvenation in the long term.

It is important to note that the LDS Church can only react to the pattern that gets built, regardless of the fact that one may be more advantageous than the other.  This will always be the case with the exception of when they own the land directly.  If the land is owned by the LDS Church the opportunity exists to position the land, ahead of actual development, so that it has the capacity to emit a more advantageous development pattern.

Figure 2 - TND Example | The Kentlands (Gaithersburg, MD)
Figure 3 – TND Example | The Kentlands (Gaithersburg, MD)

To date, there has been a degree of hesitation towards wanting to proactively position church-owned land to emit a more cooperative development pattern for the creation of LDS Wards.  The hesitation has mainly stemmed from a fear of whether there would be market acceptance, by the development community specifically and the consumer market in general, for a TND pattern.  There has also been a concern regarding the ability of the development community to effectively change their habits, practices and behavior surrounding the level of comfort that presently exists for developing under the regulations and policies that yield the more dominant CSD patterns.

Over the course of the past ten years Daybreak, in South Jordan (Utah), has been operating using a self-imposed system which yields TND patterns.  As we have analyzed the impacts of ward creation in Daybreak, due in part to the outputs associated with the TND pattern and the more diverse mix of housing that exists, a strong correlation materializes with a more optimal balance of the membership within the LDS Wards impacted by the TND patterns.  Daybreak is far from ideal though.  There is still a tendency, even within Daybreak, to concentrate certain housing types (much as is done when CSD patterns are prevalent) which does carry with it less than ideal conditions within the Wards where these clustering situations exist.  With that being said, what Daybreak has provided is a set of circumstances which allows for the analysis and measurement of the more effective TND patterns.

Figure 3 - Daybreak (South Jordan, UT)
Figure 4 – Daybreak (South Jordan, UT)

Daybreak has also been able to demonstrate unprecedented market strength for their TND neighborhoods.  Over the past ten years Daybreak has exhibited a commanding market presence which has consistently allowed them, to outperform the rest of the Wasatch Front market in new home sales.  On average, Daybreak sells one out of every five new homes along the Wasatch Front.  Daybreak also demonstrated a market resiliency during the economic recession (2007-2011) that was unprecedented in the Wasatch Front Market – real estate sales remained healthy, while the general depreciation of home values was a fraction of what was experienced outside of Daybreak.   All of this has been done in spite of its less efficient location in the southwest quadrant of Salt Lake County and its view of and proximity to the largest open-pit copper mine in the United States.  Daybreak has masterfully shown that a robust market exists for TND patterns.

Figure 5 - Daybreak (South Jordan, UT)
Figure 5 – Daybreak with Kennecott Copper Mine in background (South Jordan, UT)

A good friend of mine (Dan Parolek with Opticos Design in Berkeley, CA) has been influential (among others) in assisting Daybreak with achieving their extraordinary success.  Dan has been able to work directly with both the Daybreak development team as well as some of the Daybreak builders on their housing product strategy.  Dan is particularly well positioned to assist in this role due to the research and analysis that he has personally done on what he refers to as the “missing middle” of the housing market.  Dan has defined the “missing middle” as a cross section of multi-unit or clustered housing types, used historically, which have been effectively deemed illegal in most cases and extremely difficult in others based on zoning practices which favor only a few of the alternatives which might otherwise be available.

Figure 4 -
Figure 6 – “Missing Middle” Housing Examples (Source: Opticos Design)

Over the past couple years Dan and I have discussed the potential of his “missing middle” for providing both market bandwidth and a broader palette for generating neighborhoods that would be more conducive to the creation of LDS Wards.  The opportunity exists in being able to provide a wider array of housing types and in doing so providing a physical environment that can serve in balancing the membership mix of an LDS Ward in the short term, while also providing an ability for a Ward to rejuvenate the necessary demographics for a healthy membership balance in the long term.  Dan’s work has provided a platform which could potentially rectify the challenges associated with CSD patterns and their negative impacts on LDS Wards if the “missing middle” can be more directly applied through zoning policies becoming friendlier towards their application through the use of TND patterns.

The opportunity and challenge is determining whether taking this type of an approach is something that is willing to be undertaken.  The benefits and impacts are virtually irrefutable based on the analysis that has been done to date.  The question left to be answered is whether there is an interest and desire to work towards the more effective development patterns.  The market is there; the opportunity is there; it simply comes down to a question of whether the fortitude is there.

One thought on “LDS Ward Creation – Applying “Missing Middle” Housing

  1. Mike,
    Your work in identifying the detriments of sprawl through the success and failure of LDS Wards clearly identifies the failures of CSD and successes of traditional patterns. The main issue now is to get others to listen. We have had financial data on TND performance for over a decade yet most builders don’t want to change, despite losing out on (an underestimated) 30% of the market, essentially giving up markets with little current competition. The many proofs that exist are still met with disbelief and harsh resistance. We have both heard the words “but I like living in a suburban ranch house” as a means of refuting these proofs.

    The LDS market is an interesting one for such analysis as it is often discussed as destined for suburban homes due to family size, requirements for storing provisions, and a general conservative nature. Clearly the success of Daybreak disproves this. And I suppose if you ask members whether the church is monolithic, they will point to people in many stages of life with different backgrounds. Even the builders who are LDS would likely see this perspective but it just doesn’t translate to the end product.

    I would like to see some of the statistics you’ve collected if they are available. The LDS situation is an example applicable to all people – community cannot be sustained is placeless sprawl, even where a very strong will exists. In one way we have simply been too kind to the builder community, trying to entice them, lightly prod them, show them better models. They are simply blind to reality, and continue to rob humanity in the pursuit of profit from ever more disposable products. Building and developing can be noble, and we know many noble folks in this realm. How does the tide turn? Even within the church you’ve seen the same actions of ignoring truth (even scripture!) because the current is known and comfortable. How does it turn?

    The missing middle is a great term to describe what we have known for a long time in developing TNDs – “homebuilders” have ignored the majority of traditional housing types, turning to just a few. Of course this is prodded by financing mechanisms and laws. In many ways our TNDs (or any other traditional form) are extremely popular because they are reviving traditions lost after WWII, and sorely missing since. And those cities that are doing well are built upon a diversity of housing, though not too often townhouses. Smaller houses, shared courts, mansions converted to apartments, and all sizes of multi-family below 5 stories are the drivers of vibrancy and success. This should be clear, and is clear if you pay attention.

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