Behind Closed Doors

Along the Rublevo-Uspenskoye highway outside Moscow, a riotous jumble of mansions poke out from above the high fences: the gabled mansards of French châteaux, the pointed tops of Gothic castle towers and baroque dormer windows--all built a decade ago by a generation of Russians who had plenty of money but a deficit of taste. Venture a little farther afield, however, and you'll see something altogether more harmonious: new, gated developments like Benelux, where northern European-style cottages nestle among landscaped paths and newly planted mature trees, and Knazhiye Ozero, where discreet, chaletlike mansions surround a small lake. For up-and-coming Moscow millionaires, over-the-top mini-estates are out; understated, self-contained, luxury communities are in.

And not just in Moscow. All over the world, high-end planned communities are springing up, driven by demand from wealthy customers who want to live not only in luxurious homes but in luxurious environments, among their own. From Florida to Mumbai, Istanbul to Dubai, developers are creating small utopias where the wealthy will feel at home. Having equally rich neighbors is only part of it; gated communities often provide a clubhouse-like social center with a restaurant and fitness club, private woods for walking the dog, in-house nursery schools and maybe even a golf course--not to mention a discreet but armed security detail to keep undesirables away. "People are looking for somewhere private with all amenities on site," says Alexei Temnov, who markets real estate in and around Moscow for Knight Frank to clients willing to pay up to $20 million for a property. Today there are about 500 luxury communities around Moscow, estimates Temnov, with more springing up monthly.

The idea is to create a wealthy model village. Rublyovo-Arkhangelskoye, a new $3 billion development three kilometers outside the Moscow ring road, bills itself as "a complete urban environment." It will boast a faux-medieval Citadel where, in the words of its glossy brochure, "musicians entertain and street artists add color to the surroundings"; an old town of pseudo-European shopping streets along a grand canal; a residential new town; a fishing village and marina on the banks of the Moscow River; plus suburban cottages around horse-filled paddocks and, of course, an area for large, secluded mansions. When completed in 2009, Rublyovo-Arkhangelskoye will house some 30,000 residents in an area almost twice the size of Monaco. "We are trying to make it in the architectural style of old European cities like Prague, Amsterdam and Munich," says Viktor Novichkov, one of the project's directors.

The architecture may be old style, but the interiors are the latest word in design and comfort. Forty minutes outside Istanbul, Kemer Country is a gated community of Ottoman-style clapboard houses with overhanging gables and cobbled streets set in the rolling woodlands of Thrace. Kemer's formula has proved so popular among Turkey's SUV-driving yuppies that it's spawned at least a dozen imitators. In Independence, Florida, developers are creating a series of communities based on idealized historical American villages, starting with Colonial houses in "Signature" to an evocation of "a wilderness tamed to become the breadbasket of the world" in "The Meadows." Clients who buy the properties are mostly families who "want to feel very secure" and value "old-fashioned community spirit," says Bob Bruno, director of sales at Independence. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 7 million American households--about 6 percent of the national total--now live in purpose-built, enclosed developments, up from 5.5 million in 2001.

But few planned-community projects can compete with The World, a multibillion-dollar development off the coast of Dubai built on 300 man-made islands in the shape of the continents. Each island can be themed according to its buyers' wishes; half have already been bought by Russians, who have christened them Moscow, Omsk and Chechnya. "It's like being a castaway in a film," says Viktor Isayev, who recently visited The World with a view to buying. "It's a little fantasy world, like a dream." And for growing numbers, it's a dream they can readily make come true.