Yesteryear's small towns evoke glowing memories of quaint center squares, well-kept homes behind picket fences, busy stores with friendly shopkeepers and tasty eateries down the street or a short drive.

While the dreamy thoughts may be pollyanna-ish, they showcase an America that people envision even today. It's an upbeat contrast to the dour images of suburbs as sprawling and congested.

Trouble is, new small towns haven't really sprung up since the age of the pioneers, replaced in many cases by the suburbs. Arguably, though, a type of village is taking its place for buyers looking for newer places: the master planned community. Evolving over the past 40 years or so, the miles-wide communities are often designed to imitate a village lifestyle showcasing close-knit families, places to "work, shop and play" — a favorite line of marketers — and a cozy setting in which everything's within a healthy walk, bike ride or quick trip in the car.

"It's a good thing because people today, they are all about busy lives," says Brian Keels, chief operating officer of Carolina Park Development.

Carolina Park, a 2,000-acre community in the upper reaches of Mount Pleasant, boasts upscale homes in distinct neighborhoods The Village and Riverside; tapping into a host of builders and custom craftsmen; showcasing parks, pools, pavilion and a new 20-acre lake as well as shops, businesses and civic buildings.

All of this "harks back to the old days," he says.

According to Keels, the East Cooper new-homes village incorporates the basics of a master planned community, one that "thoughtfully integrates residential neighborhoods, businesses, recreation and schools in a manner that's both logical and convenient." But, he says, Carolina Park goes "several steps further by including not one but five top-rated schools, two churches, public services including police, fire and a public library and even a full-service hospital." Meanwhile, Costco discount club prepares to open its newest Charleston-area store this summer at Carolina Park, he notes.

Keels calls the community attractions "unsurpassed," citing the Residents Club with pool, tennis courts, outdoor pavilion, great lawn and dog park; miles of walking and biking trails; ponds stocked with fish; and access to the 54-acre active park.

"All of those things pay off the concept of “master planned” in an encompassing way — and we haven’t even started to talk about the homes," he says.

Carolina Park rolls out a diverse range of house styles from eight top builders. The Village spotlights townhomes, cottages and "classic" single-family homes priced from the $400,000s and up, "all in a community that is close-knit and connective, reminiscent of America’s great traditional neighborhoods," Keels says.

Riverside, meanwhile, raises custom houses on private home sites averaging an acre and priced from the $600,000s to $1 million-plus. Developers permanently preserved half of the neighborhood's 545 acres. Bolden Lake is set to open as a residential and recreational enclave, and Riverside also fronts on the Wando River.

Carolina Park also showcases an apartment-home enclave and another on the way.

"The simple truth is, when people choose to call Carolina Park home, they are choosing more than a new address and a beautiful new home," Keels says. "They’re choosing a lifestyle that enables them and their families to enjoy the best of all worlds right in their own backyards."

Master-planned communities can be found throughout the Lowcountry, including Carolina Park, Rivertowne, Hamlin and Brickyard east of the Cooper; Poplar Grove west of the Ashley; and the Summerville area including Cane Bay, Carnes Crossroads, Nexton and The Ponds — which recently added Ryan Homes as a new builder.

Daniel Island, with more than 10,000 people, is a master-planned community all to itself, made up of close to a dozen neighborhoods and touting businesses, eateries, lodging, sports and entertainment centers, parks, schools, public services such as a fire station and a host of residential styles including single-family homes from the $400,000s to multmillion dollars, condos, townhomes and rentals.

Pulte Group is one of the more active builders in terms of master-planned communities in the Charleston area, involved in seven villages under four contractor names. For purchasers, convenience is a top priority, “so having the amenities (and) shopping is very attractive to them when considering their next home,” says Jennifer Pencarinha, marketing manager, Coastal Carolinas for Pulte Group.

The company sells under the Pulte, Centex, Del Webb and John Wieland brands. A new Centex Homes community, Sanctuary Cove, will open soon in Cane Bay offering new homes from the low $200,000s. Also, the builder’s large Carolina Bay community west of the Ashley will have new phases, including the just-launched Marshside Towns and existing Essex with a new model, says Jaymie Dimbath, the Coastal Carolinas vice president of sales and marketing.

The builder also crafts John Wieland homes priced in the mid $300,000s to more than $1 million in Dunes West, Pulte and Centex houses up to the low $400,000s at Oakfield on Johns Island, Centex residences from the low $200,000s in Foxbank in Moncks Corner, Pulte homes from the high $200,000s at Carnes Crossroads and Pulte and Del Webb dwellings in the low to mid $200,000s at Nexton.

Pulte Group caters to master planned communities for a few reasons. “We are able to establish a lifestyle and encourage neighborhood activities with so much to offer to the buyer,” Pencarinha says.

For more information and photos, go to www.postandcourier.com/business/real_estate/jim-parker.

Reach Jim Parker at 843-937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.