August 6, 2004

What’s Life Like In A “New Urbanist” Community?

The Seattle Times last Sunday took a detailed look at several such developments, where "people, not cars, are king. Cul-de-sacs are conspicuously absent, frowned upon because they isolate residents. Dry cleaners and sandwich shops face the sidewalk, not the parking lot. Homes are set back on small lots, creating buffers between front doors and the road. . . .

"Behind [the Carlson's] house is their all-important alley, the bull's-eye of community connection the couple was searching for: Back yards bordered with low, picket fences overlook a well-lit central lane where kids play, moms pull weeds and dads wash cars. Maria Carlson calls the alley 'party central.' "

While yards are small, neighborhood parks abound. And, the developments are typically surrounded by nature.

But, the article notes, there are still problems ... and questions.

In order to build major new developments like these, you've got to have a fair amount of land. And the only place to find such land is typically in rural areas, where the influx of people in a densely populating setting is likely to clash with those already there.

So far, retail and commercial services have seriously lagged new housing development, which means the communities don't offer the promised walk-to shopping and jobs; instead, residents are adding to the region's traffic. "Volumes on Novelty Hill Road, which links Redmond Ridge and other rural residents to downtown Redmond, rose from an average 14,700 vehicles a day in 1999 to 20,500 last year," the article notes.

Still, it seems such new communities have potential. And given that the rural areas are likely to see development of some kind, the question is: Are New Urban communities better than McMansion suburban spawl?

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