May 13, 2007

Building large homes without sacrificing communal space

We visited relatives this week outside of Philadelphia, in a new development of luxury homes that was interesting in its attempt to balance outstanding private space with quality common neighborhood space.

The homes were large on relatively small private lots, but clustered around a larger green open space that belonged to (and was maintained by) a neighborhood association. The homes and small common areas were adjacent to a large amount of open space, also jointly owned. Interestingly, this s an unusual case of "cluster zoning" where the overall density is less than a typical suburban development, not more. However, the seven-figure pricetag for homes in the development makes it clear that this kind of development pattern isn't going to be available to everyone

The development was built in one of the wealthiest communities in America, part of the "Main Line" outside of Philadelphia. The developers said they tried to keep a traditional feel for a Main Line community, where the physical environment encourages neighbors to know each other (instead of the more traditional exurban development patterns where everyone has their own multiple acres and nobody sees anyone else). I was surprised at the relative lack of privacy in the yards, considering the pricetag on the homes. Personally, I like a communal front-facing home with privacy in the back. On the other hand, I could see that the kids in the neighborhood knew each other, and were able to run back and forth to each other's houses themselves, without having to be driven by Mom or Dad.

As is typical these days, the couple of streets in the new development had only one outlet to a single street, instead of being integrated into a grid. This gives a somewhat isolated feel instead of being part of a larger community -- something a lot of people apparently like, but definitely counter to a smart-growth principle that I prefer in a neighborhood. And, being a more countrified suburb, there were no sidewalks on that street, making it tough to walk to the commercial area of town even though it wasn't that far away (there is a separate walking trail in the woods, I didn't find out if that lets out anywhere that would qualify as a destination -- school, store, restaurant, etc.) Overall, though, there are definitely far worse ways to develop luxury homes in traditional communities than this.

1 comment:

  1. I live in a new construction infill home in a small "ruburban" community just outside Athens, Georgia. Interesting to read your comments on proximity of the homes as well as lack of sidewalks. We also lack sidewalks within a half mile of commercial district and schools. Why oh why don't Americans walk?