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Thread: Are TNDs (Traditional Neighborhood Development) walkable?

  1. #1
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    Are TNDs (Traditional Neighborhood Development) walkable?

    I need to vent about a San Diego TND: Rio Vista West in Mission Valley (actually, it's a transit oriented development on the trolley line).

    It is an infill TND - built on a former gravel quarry, about 5 miles outside of downtown San Diego in a region known for its big box malls and parking lots.

    An excellent overview of the development can be found here: http://www.tndwest.com/riovistawest.html

    I was shocked to find out that this development is an example of "New Urbanism" because it doesn't even resemble a traditional neighborhood. It's surrounded by surface parking lots, 6-lane thoroughfares and even its own new big box mall next door (no grocery store). Developers altered Peter Calthorpe's original plan to include a mall that would serve the major freeways.

    The place is not walkable beyond its own 1/8 mile driveways, And even though the surrounding roads include treelined sidewalks, they are not pedestrian friendly because of the traffic load and surrounding parking lots/office parks. This is an area built for cars.

    I have several questions:
    1) Would it be safe to say that most TND's are master-planned communities built from scratch??
    2) Are TND's different from revitalized downtowns?? I'm a little confused about the definition of TND - some of the ones listed at the TND Town Paper site (http://www.tndtownpaper.com/neighborhoods.htm) seem more like revitalized urban neighborhoods to me, which tend to be much more successful than this Disneyfied TND. Rio Vista West is not listed there - I don't think it would meet their standards.
    3) Are most TND's walkable? Or are they squeezed into a car-dominated environment?
    4) What kind of TND is Rio Vista West? Would this be an example of "New Suburbanism"?
    5) Is New Suburbanism essentially huge condo complexes built next to big box malls?
    6) Would it be wise to divide NU into two categories: TND's (built on greenfields or infill land) and revitalized downtowns?

    I admire the principles of New Urbanism, but wonder how often those principles are realized "on the ground".

    Any thoughts, links, resources would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

  2. #2
    Cyburbian JimPlans's avatar
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    It depends on the bravery of the developer

    There is a development near me called West Park Village, a part of the Westchase development north of Tampa. It was built a few years a go by Terrabrook as a greenfield site. Generally it is a good TND development. I would have done some things differently (such as giving the houses more yard space), but it has sidewalks, narrow streets, alleyways instead of snout garages, a shopping district modeled after a downtown, etc. It is a very pleasant and quiet place to walk around in.

    Most of the rest of Westchase is standard suburban snout-house development, and building West Park Village as a TND was a leap of faith. The developer had no problem selling "normal" development for a good profit, and the risk to the bottom line of building something new and unknown was real. However, there were enough other TND developments around to prove that the model had potential. In the end, building West Park Village was just as profitable as a regular development would have been. But, had Terrabrook lost its nerve, or not even considered a TND as an option, it could easily have turned into something much less walkable and pleasant.

    It sounds like the developer near you wasn't really wedded to the concept, else they wouldn't have made it so auto-centric. Placing a mall in one corner does go against the TND concept, although that may be what was needed to make the development profitable to the developer and fiscally positive to the community.

    TND development may be nice for the residents, but it can make risk-adverse developers nervous (i.e.most of them). Add to that the fights that developers often have to have with government to implement certain TND-style features, like narrower streets and lots, higher density, etc., and the trouble of TND can outweigh any perceived benefit. Unless and until developers generally become convinced that there is more money in TND than in snout houses and malls and governments start making it easy to build TND, it will continue to be rare, and well-done TND will be even rarer.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally posted by jpalma32 View post
    Unless and until developers generally become convinced that there is more money in TND than in snout houses and malls and governments start making it easy to build TND, it will continue to be rare, and well-done TND will be even rarer.

    Interesting.

    So, are poorly-done TND's generally the result of interference by the developer and/or government? I tend to look at this issue from a resident and pedestrian's point of view, so I am rather naive about the financial issus involved.

    Are well-done TND's rare? Is my TND the norm?

  4. #4
    Cyburbian JimPlans's avatar
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    So, are poorly-done TND's generally the result of interference by the developer and/or government? I tend to look at this issue from a resident and pedestrian's point of view, so I am rather naive about the financial issus involved.

    Are well-done TND's rare? Is my TND the norm?
    I wouldn't use the word "interference" to describe the issues that can affect TND development. Inertia, conservatism, or inflexibility would be better descriptions. Remember that, for the most part, development is created by private firms looking for a profit. There is a huge investment required to create a master-planned community on the part of a developer. This tends to make them conservative and to stick to development forms that they know will sell.

    As for government, often they have strict regulations on street width, traffic circulation, building heights and setbacks, etc. that might not fit with the TND philosiphy. Unless they are willing to bend these rules, and/or unless a developer is willing to put up a fight to see the rules changed, a TND community might not happen or might not be in the form that was originally envisioned.

    As for the rarity of well-done TND's, that sounds like a research project that needs to be done. I can only comment on what I have seen with my own eyes.

    If you want to read a good study on the success of older developments that bucked the trends and the rules, check out Ann Forsyth's book "Reforming Suburbia:
    The Planned Communities of Irvine, Columbia, and The Woodlands." She examines the assumptions behind the planning of these communities and how well those plans worked in practice. Maybe someone needs to do this for TNDs, and/or maybe someone already has.

  5. #5
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    For a review of TND's, I'd recommend www.tndwest.com. Jim Horne has visited over 200 of them, mostly on the West Coast. His reviews are very well researched and well written. According to his observations, many are enclosed by roads that are less than walkable, and Rio Vista West is actually better than average.

  6. #6
    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by california dreams View post
    For a review of TND's, I'd recommend www.tndwest.com. Jim Horne has visited over 200 of them, mostly on the West Coast. His reviews are very well researched and well written. According to his observations, many are enclosed by roads that are less than walkable, and Rio Vista West is actually better than average.
    I had a hand in this one; processing the Specific Plan land use amendment.


    http://tndwest.com/metrowalk.html

  7. #7
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    [QUOTE=california dreams;348194]
    So, are poorly-done TND's generally the result of interference by the developer and/or government? I tend to look at this issue from a resident and pedestrian's point of view, so I am rather naive about the financial issus involved.
    QUOTE]
    Traffic engineers They don't like narrow streets or alleys. They sit on Development Review Committees and veto anything that is not drive-happy suburban. Meanwhile the school district objects due to a horrifying specter involving a school bus and a garbage truck. But eventually the TND developer surrenders and craps out a project that makes everybody feel all warm and fuzzy again. Welcome to my world.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian cdub's avatar
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    That development doesn't do most well done TND's justice. Seems pretty bad, though some of the photos show some aspects that you'd see in other TND's (Town Center with apts/ condos). It does have the big box components that are a negative and seems to lack Single Family options.

    Most TND's I've visited are usually greenfield. It's tough to acquire the amount of acreage in urban areas to develop. That's usually the job of infill development. The greenfield component can also be a major negative as they become an oasis of development and still require automobiles for the majority of residents to get to their jobs. Not many TND's have incorporated enough office space in order to be self-sufficient. Throw on top of that how many of these developments skyrocket in price and service workers for what little retail services there are, these people then have to commute in. Good developments have a diverse mix of housing options.

    Jim's right when it comes to government regulations that can alter a project. You have to remember that as a country and with the incorporation of zoning, we threw out how to build sought after urban neighborhoods. It'll take education and time to start getting these policies back in place. Developers will also meddle in the design and sometimes push designers in a direction they'd rather not go, for example, incorporating the big box in your example development.

    One example I can think of that was changed by the government was I'on outside of Charleston, SC. It's a couple hundred acre development of Single Family homes and a fairly insignificant town center. The local government, if I'm remembering correctly, would not allow multi-family units or townhomes in the development. That helps to throw out a lot of options right off the bat for diversity and limits the amount of retail/ office the developer could then incorporate.

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