At Indigo in Houston, housing elevations include reinterpretations of familiar architectural styles like Agrarian, Farmhouse, Ranch and Contemporary. The thoughtful number of housing types are consciously planned to welcome everyone, regardless of age or family composition. (CultivateLAND)

In any industry, the pressure to achieve the next big breakthrough is a daunting task. In community development, envisioning how future societies will live can often feel like masterminding a high-tech work of science fiction. Just outside of Houston, a development of the future is emerging—but it is probably not what you think. Instead of flying cars and sky-scraping utopias, this version of Tomorrowland has its roots firmly and sustainably planted in days gone by.

Our flagship neighborhood, Indigo, is a 235-acre (95.1 ha) walkable community complete with approximately 800 residences, 42 acres (17 ha) of devoted agriculture, a 25-acre (10.1 ha) lake, and more than 70,000 square feet (6,503 sq m) of mixed-use commercial development. With phase one currently under construction and new model homes, shops, and an urban farm set to open in early 2024, Indigo will feature a connected village of retail, small businesses, residential living, and outdoor spaces, with a 12-acre (4.85 ha) town center that draws inspiration from traditional Main Streets where buildings are at a human-scale and encourage interaction.

Indigo places a paradoxical bet on humanity’s next generations by finding its essence in the echoes of the past. We’re borrowing inspiration from historical models of development that successfully fostered vibrant, interconnected communities. Much more than nostalgia, this return to a simpler way of life is a surprisingly complex goal, but one that we’re bullish on.

Houston’s distinct lack of stringent zoning has led to a wide range of urban forms, some of which are more humane than others. The area’s varied developments mirror its demographics. Fort Bend is one of the most diverse counties in the nation, with 38 percent of the county’s GDP coming from foreign-born residents. We see this as a hopeful sign, illuminating the promise of a future that thrives on inclusivity and collaboration.

In a world racing towards innovation, our approach for Indigo lies in revisiting the wisdom of yesteryears but tailored meticulously to the rhythms of today’s codes and demands. Indigo’s future is shaping up to be a harmonious blend of time-honored values with modern realities. It is a confident wager on the adage that sometimes, looking back is the most revolutionary step forward.

The master plan for Indigo. (CultivateLAND)

Vision for Indigo

Economic factors—and more accurately, financiers—drive development decisions. In turn, the commodification of the housing market churns out homogenized streetscapes with same size lots. The builders may be different, but the result is more of the same: places for profit instead of places for people.

Accustomed to pushing boulders uphill, we aim to dream and impact differently. Undoing commodification invites a craft and originality that can be messy. However, messiness is inherent in realness. Fueled by a commitment to fine-grain development, Indigo will be a neighborhood that pulsates with life. The inclusive features and modern design defy the “one-size-fits-all” approach with a strong focus on community, wellness, and resiliency. Indigo will include a 42-acre () working farm, multiple housing types catering to all ages and life stages, incremental development to ensure sustainable growth, and a refreshing prioritization of walkability.

“Indigo stands out in many ways, including its approach to incremental development, which ensures a more organic and resilient way to build mixed-use product,” said Chris Fernandez, director of planning at DAHLIN Architecture | Planning | Interiors, the town architect for Indigo. “Incremental development prioritizes small businesses and allows for more sustainable growth within the community, all while meeting the cultural and practical needs of residents and business owners.”

Many communities develop with big box retail or retail strip centers in mind, which reduce connection and walkability, don’t match the neighborhood’s character, and aren’t available until after the majority of homes in the neighborhood are built and sold. With incremental development, residents are able to enjoy a vibrant and growing community from day one because small businesses have easier access to tenant ownership options and the community is dedicated to fostering a healthy and prosperous environment for businesses of all sizes.

By incorporating incremental development, Indigo will have a transformative ‘urban in the suburbs’ environment. Think about iconic neighborhoods like Greenwich Village in New York, Queen Street in Toronto, and Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco. These spaces, developed organically over time, epitomize the efficacy of incremental development. Coupling this approach and inspired by small-town communities that exist across the country, Indigo has found a way to march onward by taking cues from footprints of the past.

At the heart of Indigo, we’re developing a village core and community heartbeat called Indigo Commons. Harkening back to small-town Main Streets with a contemporary twist, Indigo Commons will be the intersection of community, culture, and commerce. (CultivateLAND)

Designing a Distinct People-First Neighborhood

Indigo’s design principles diverge from the conventions of modern urban sprawl by placing people, not vehicles, at its core. The street network prioritizes pedestrian safety for walking and cycling throughout the neighborhood. Homes incorporate welcoming front porches and shallow setbacks, reminiscent of a time when evening chats with neighbors were commonplace.

The neighborhood was designed to make the natural landscape, the community’s lens, a character in the story. The integration of green spaces and mews beckon residents down pathways that lead to communal gathering spots. This design is deliberate, ensuring that a stroll down the street becomes an exercise in sparking human bonds while simultaneously lessening the dominance of automobiles. It also speaks directly to financials, as it’s efficient for dollars and people interactions.

With approximately 650 for sale homes and 150 rental residences, housing elevations include reinterpretations of familiar architectural styles like Agrarian, Farmhouse, Ranch and Contemporary. The thoughtful number of housing types are consciously planned to welcome everyone, regardless of age or family composition. With a quilted pattern of development, Indigo’s design principles reflect the very ethos of the neighborhood itself. The three builders for the community, David Weekley Homes, Highland Homes, and Empire Communities, are all committed to building in responsible and environmentally ethical ways.

“As we sculpted Indigo’s vision, we wanted to create a neighborhood that would stand the test of time, not just in durability, but in spirit,” said Drew Watkins, principal at JZMK Partners. “Indigo isn’t just about the structures we build. It’s also about laying down the foundations for relationships. The village’s framework acts as a canvas for community stories to unfold. By celebrating connections—to the land, to food, and most importantly, to each other—we’ve aimed for a design that’s both aesthetically pleasing and deeply human-centric.”

Resilience and Connection to the Land

Beyond the built environment, Indigo has a palpable dedication to environmental stewardship. The community gives residents and visitors abundant access to nature, anchored by the working farm.

More than a simple agricultural endeavor, the farm will be a living classroom, a source of local produce, and an unmistakable signature of Indigo’s perspective on sustainable living. People will be able to walk its fields and gain a tangible connection to their food, becoming intimately aware of its journey from soil to table. Beyond serving as a source of nourishment for residents, the produce will be available to the broader community as well, underscoring Indigo’s commitment to regional well-being. A 25-acre (10.1 ha) community lake will also be developed as a sanctuary for migratory bird species and native fish populations.

“The design philosophy behind Indigo is not just about creating spaces but intertwining them with the surrounding environment,” says Jake Salzman, president at CultivateLAND, Indigo’s landscape architect. “Every element, from the serene lakes to the working farm, has been integrated with an emphasis on sustainability, native biodiversity, and honoring the richness of the land.”

Indigo’s version of eco-consciousness is about creating a regenerative loop that benefits both people and the land. The neighborhood and its residents will gain a heightened sense of environmental awareness because the community’s design makes the natural world a focal point.

Community, Collaboration and Partnerships

At the heart of Indigo, we’re developing a village core and community heartbeat called Indigo Commons. Harkening back to small-town Main Streets with a contemporary twist, Indigo Commons will be the intersection of community, culture, and commerce. The vibrant and pedestrian-focused retail experience is being curated specifically to help small businesses thrive and for the community to gather.

The walkable neighborhood will support local artisans, entrepreneurs, and startups, making it easier than ever for small businesses to navigate and access brick-and-mortar ownership and leasing options. First-floor spaces will focus on active retail, inviting people to shop, dine and explore, while the second and third floors of the buildings will be a combination of offices or residences, depending on the building location and the need of the local business owners. The flexible spaces are designed to be owner-occupied and possess smaller square footages to make ownership more practical and affordable for a wide array of business types.

For residents, Indigo Commons is a place where they can build relationships with local talent, support sustainable businesses, and accomplish many of their daily tasks close to home. For entrepreneurs, it will be a place of mutual growth and shared prosperity. The success of Indigo Commons is an earnest collective effort, highlighting the interdependence of entrepreneurs and consumers, which results in a prosperous community for everyone.

Entrepreneurs at Indigo Commons shouldn’t struggle to find their footing. We’re working closely with SBA-preferred lenders including local agencies and banks, while engaging with the City of Richmond, Fort Bend County, local chambers, small business organizations and more, opening as many doors as possible for those who aspire to rent or own a business space. The allure has generated significant interest from local entrepreneurs, with numerous small businesses placing deposits to be part of a curated walkable street-level retail experience.

“Indigo Commons presents a unique and collaborative perspective in commercial developments,” said Fort Bend County Precinct 4 Commissioner Dexter L. McCoy. “Meristem Communities is blending its vision with the goals of our community and local business owners. Their commitment to creating a community where businesses and residents can come together is not only groundbreaking but also vital. The substantial local support further solidifies my belief that Indigo Commons will be a valuable addition to Fort Bend County.”

Looking Ahead by Looking Back

Indigo is a community that bridges the past and future together, cherishing the modern and eclectic vibes of Greater Houston locals while keeping a firm grasp on the charm of small Texas towns from the 19th century.

Creating a community like Indigo is not solely about remarkable design or visionary master-planning. A substantial part of its magic lies in collaboration, which sits a true center of the development craft. Realizing that the cities of tomorrow necessitate forging strong relationships today, we took to heart the responsibility of cultivating bonds that will bring Indigo to life and contribute to its success.

As Indigo moves forward, it’s our hope that the neighborhood can inspire a legacy beyond its immediate borders. We’re intent on keeping an open-source model to help make human-centric urban development as accessible and replicable as possible. Indigo can be a roadmap for other planners, developers and city officials who want to re-prioritize human connection. Our hope is that cities of the future can look to Indigo, not only for help constructing physical spaces, but as a guide for establishing the collaborative processes needed to truly shape a resilient community.