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What are New Urbanist towns really like?

JNL

Cyburbian
Messages
2,449
Points
24
Has anyone visited or lived in a New Urbanist town planned by Duany and Plater-Zyberk? e.g. Seaside, The Kentlands, Prospect. What were your impressions? Was the downtown really the "civic, economic and spiritual" centre of the community? I have read the discussion "is New Urbanism just for the affluent" but I am interested in how the residents find these towns.
 

Cardinal

Cyburbian
Messages
10,078
Points
33


Although we may appreciate some of their virtues, we are mostly planners (and economic developers) and cannot afford to live in them. Many, of us, though, have lived in their prototypes (i.e., pre-WWII urban neighborhoods).
 

PlannerGirl

Cyburbian Plus
Messages
6,377
Points
28
Greensboro, my old haunt, is building a TND that was designed by DPZ-built by Nate Bowman of Bowman Development. He *and they* also did Southern Village and some other in the RDU area i cant recall the name of. Anyway they feel-sterile and forced. Kinda Truman show.

They are all WAY overpriced. They bill the one in GSO as "affordable" but its not, and its apparently not selling well. Wrong side of town, wrong dynamics and bad market.

DPZ was...intresting to work with.
 

Wannaplan?

Galactic Superstar
Messages
3,110
Points
26
Yes, I have been to a New Urbanist development - Orenco Station just west of Portland, OR. (Not a DPZ design, by the way.) My impression? Much like a suburban subdivision, but the houses were closer together. There was a train stop nearby (that's how I got there), but that's the way the Portland region is, with many small towns connected by rail. Taking the train out from Portland to Orenco, well, I was not impressed - Portland is so cool that any nearby greenfield development, whether NU or otherwise, would not fare well in comparison.
 
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3,690
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27
We visited Celebration in Florida last year. My father in law thought it was a cult, but then, he was all miffed there was no Catholic Church, not realizing that Catholics don't live in the South. Anyway - it was a little on the sterile side, but overall, I rather liked it. They are having major problems with their school system though, I hear. And there is absolutely no way that my family could ever afford to live there. As for the downtown - it seems like there were more tourists than locals there.
 

Tranplanner

maudit anglais
Messages
7,903
Points
34
I haven't honestly visited any of the new urbanist developments outside Toronto - they really don't seem to register much on the radar screen here, after all the hoopla when new urbanism was introduced about 10 years ago. The problem is that they end up being the same old same old residential communities, without the mix of uses, etc. They are also quite expensive - more so than "standard" subdivisions. New urbanism has had an impact on the architecture of subdivisions around here, but less so on the form.
 

Cardinal

Cyburbian
Messages
10,078
Points
33
One of the difficulties I see is that the commercial component often "forces" the market. A century or more ago when the originals were being built, a corner store was viable. These neighborhoods could easily spring up as an extension to the urban fabric, or at a rural crossroads, with commercial uses in a small space with residences above.

That model does not work in the format of modern retail. Compounding the problem, the neighborhoods are being built away from the commercial strips where people shop, meaning there is a locational disadvantage. The only way it seems to work is to make a development so large that it creates a new market (ex. Celebration). A development of that size will only work in certain large markets, mostly in large, rapidly growing metros.

In adopting our own TND ordinance, I was able to incorporate changes that let TND development be constructed without commercial, if there is commercial (such as the downtown) within walking distance. It might give us the chance to see developments of 20-30 homes in a traditional pattern.
 

Lee Nellis

Cyburbian
Messages
1,371
Points
28
I saw a faux TND project in Bend, OR that had porches, but porches too narrow to put a chair on and prop your feet up on the porch rail! It did have some appeal due to the narrower streets, trees, and garages in back, but was pretty clearly someone trying to capitalize on a trend for marketing purposes. The reality is that good neighborhoods are not designed and built by DPZ or anyone else. They don't happen at the pace of modern suburban development. They evolve over decades. I don't think we'll be able to properly evaluate Kentlands, Celebration, et al for 20 or 30 more years. If we look back that far to, say, Columbia, I don't think anyone could have imagined the sprawling mess that now surrounds it, apparently attracted (Maryland planners may have opinions on this, that I would like to hear) by Columbia's relatively unique quality.
 

BKM

Cyburbian
Messages
6,464
Points
29
Neotrad Realities

I agree with Lee. What all the developers of the new faux "downtowns" forget is that part of the "charm" or "character" of a traditional town center is that property ownership-and tenants-are diverse, and not all controlled through some master lease or development company. They are not typically stocked only with chain stores. More importantly, they are not all built at one time by one company (even if said company uses more than one architect). I also find the "American Values and Traditions" emphasis a little creepy.

But, is this the way American retail works today? Not generally. Hell, I shopped at Target last night. I didn't go to some local shop (none of which were open at night or carry what I wanted anyway!)

Despite that, the neotrad and fake neotrad residential neighborhoods do LOOK better than standard snout house suburbia. So, that is the real question: do we go for incremental improvement or hold out for "the real thing."
 

gkmo62u

Cyburbian
Messages
1,046
Points
23
How do you hold out for the real thing? Won't the market sort some or most of this out?

I have heard that Kentlands, for instance, has had a terrible time attracting and keeping the small scale retail tenant.

If somebody could verify this that would be great.

And I agree with Lee as well. Time will tell whether these ideas work or not.

Its an evolution, all of our built environment. If we find these developments have not worked, we will build something else.
 

Cardinal

Cyburbian
Messages
10,078
Points
33
The retail at Middleton Hills, in Wisconsin, still is not performing as hoped. I think it is still being subsidized. However, I believe the live/work units have done very well.
 

BKM

Cyburbian
Messages
6,464
Points
29
I don't really know how you "hold out for the real thing." :) I guess I meant in these discussion boards, where flights of fantasy like "the real thing" matter.

In the real world, you are right. The market will sort things out. Unless we are going to start banning chain stores and big boxes, I don't see how the little mom and pop "shoppes" will be that successful-in almost all communities (I know that there are exceptions, but the average suburbanite will still drive five miles to save 10% on goods at Target or Wal Mart-not to forget internet sales.) Plus, running these shops is really hard work. I would love to believe in the "dream" of Kunstler, Duaney, et al, but until the crash that Kunstler keeps prophecying occurs, the category killers and chains will eat the few remaining local merchants alive-in general.
 

Lee Nellis

Cyburbian
Messages
1,371
Points
28
I am not so sure that the bix box domination of local merchants is set in stone. Everywhere I go, where the economy is otherwise healthy (the big boxes may well wipe out everyone else in places where the economy is shaky, I see that in the rural areas of the Midwest), there are some thriving local stores. A shoe store in Grand Junction, a book store in Traverse City, etc, etc. I am willing to support restrictions on big boxes for a variety of reasons, but I am also betting that entrepreneurial energy will find its way around big box competition in many categories of retail, given a little time. Almost all of us will continue to shop at big boxes at times (I go out of my way to patronize owner-run stores, but it is really hard to avoid Home Depot sometimes), but I think our desire for unique goods, better service, and a better shopping experience, and some consumer education (to which planners should be contributing) about how most big boxes treat employees will leave a lot of niches open.
 

GeekyBoy

Cyburbian
Messages
41
Points
2
Been to Cornell, Markham - a New Urbanist greenfield development in the outskirts of Toronto. It's a bit sureal, really - and in a bad way.

First of all, it exists pretty much in a urban vacuum - there is no reasonable way to get into the area other than by cars, since transit service is dirt poor. No pedestrians will casually walk there, nor is there any sort of attraction that outsiders would want to go there for (other than a few urban planners wanting to see the place for themselves). So chances are, walkablity of the neighbourhood notwithstanding, all but the very few would still be driving to work, school, etc. Such is the fallacy of building New Urbanist developments without references to the greater urban form (or the lackthereof, in most suburbs).

Second, as "different" as the feel of the community is - one can't help but notice the very strong sense of conformity. A bit like watching "Pleasantville" if you ask me - there is no room for deviance from the norm, no spontaneity, and of course, no differences in the age of the buildings. Socioeconomically, the populace is homogenous - and indeed, one tend to notice that the mode of behaviour of the residents have much more in similarity with those of the typical suburb, than your inner city neighbourhood.

And lastly, in addressing the issue of time - it is unlikely that time will improve on the quality of New Urbanist developments - since the surronding suburbs are more often than not static, and that residents, who "bought" into the idea of the urban paradise, would likely be highly resistant to any change to the development itself, both physical and demographical. So what we are liable to have is deserts of New Urbanism within the matrix of the sprawl.

GB
 

BKM

Cyburbian
Messages
6,464
Points
29
I don't want to be TOO apocalyptic, Lee. You are certainly right. I try to do the local thing, too. I go to the local coffee place rather than Starbucks, prefer the local burrito joint to Chipotle, etc.

Vacaville, CA has a great local hardware store. I have no need to brave the monster parking lots and huge floor plans with the beeping forklifts that mar the Big Orange. :)
 

BKM

Cyburbian
Messages
6,464
Points
29
The saddest thing I've ever seen, though, is the pattern in Kentucky's Bluegrass Area near Lexington. Beautiful 19th and 18th century town centers, with every town bypassed with a big road, and a Wal Mart and chain fast food junk (with full parking lots) perched on the edge of town. The downtowns, if they are lucky, have a few museum houses and teddy bear shoppes.
 

JNL

Cyburbian
Messages
2,449
Points
24
Thanks for your feedback everyone, there's some really interesting comments here. I've been reading up on New Urbanism - books by DPZ etc, and wanted to get some feedback on how well these places (which are portrayed as some kind of utopia in the books I've been reading) really work. This has helped me to read the material from a more critical viewpoint.
 

boiker

Cyburbian
Messages
3,890
Points
26
BKM said:
I I try to do the local thing, too. I go to the local coffee place rather than Starbucks, prefer the local burrito joint to Chipotle, etc.
I think Central Illinois must be a void of those particular developments. We don't have any Chipotle, we don't have any Starbucks.

Peoria area is about 350,000 people, no Old Navy, no Baker's Square (best pie from a chain period)., no TGI Friday's etc.

actually, it's kind of nice to avoid the 'traditional' bar and grill chain restuarants. After living in the suburbs though, it's tough to get used to people walking around without old navy on every god damn thing
 

boiker

Cyburbian
Messages
3,890
Points
26
PlannerGirl said:


DPZ was...intresting to work with.
We just had them come in and consult on Peoria's development and future in the old and downtown areas. And Duany comes off as being a very arrogant, and blunt individual.

He's ideas are solid, but to artifically force urban development is impossible. Suburban development is the artificial city. Usually a city that could not sustain itself on it's own.

I think he did have some excellent ideas related to redevelopment.
 

Otis

Cyburbian
Messages
5,164
Points
28
Maybe it's a little late to chime in, but the new urbanists ought to go back and reread Jane Jacobs a little more carefully. And maybe a little on ecosystem dynamics. Heterogeneity -- complexity -- is what makes systems, living ones anyway, stable.
 
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