‘Show Me the Money!’ New bumper sticker for the New Normal?

There hasn’t been a New Urbanist Council gathering for a while. Which is why a lot of pent-up anxiety — and hope — found release in Council sessions in Montgomery, Alabama, October 14-16.

These regionally organized Councils are intended to grapple with topics that should be on the table for annual Congress for the New Urbanism meetings but require give-and-take from a smaller group to better focus issues. So some 50 or so folks came to Montgomery to critique recent ideas and projects and to wrestle with propositions to position New Urbanism for the New Normal.

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Six Years Later: Katrina Cottages take hold

August 11 will be a landmark day in the South Mississippi communities still recovering from the 2005 mega-storm, Hurricane Katrina. And it’s about time.

On that day next week, 18 days shy of the sixth anniversary of the storm, the development team behind the Cottages at Oak Park in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, will host a ribbon cutting for 29 rental units that represent the latest evolution of an idea born in the Mississippi Renewal Forum following the storm.

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Smart Growth = Smart Parenting

Put the village on hold. For the time being, it’s gonna take a parent, a councilman and a developer to raise a child.

Flashback 2003: Attending the New Partners for Smart Growth conference in New Orleans, I caught the keynote from a planning official for Vancouver, British Columbia. Now, under normal circumstances, I don’t suppose I’d remember much of what he said but, at the time, my daughter was just over three years old and something he used as the overall framing for his making Smart Growth work presentation really resonated with me.

“If it works for kids,” he said, “it works for everyone.”

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Gettin’ Paid: Placemaking and the Importance of Compensation

Over a decade ago Andres Duany of DPZ taught me that, more times than not, NIMBY opposition stems from a sense that proposed development is not of equal or greater value to what would be lost.

Tony Nelessen, the inventor of the Visual Preference Survey, confirmed this lesson a few years later when he came to my town and conducted one.  Continue Reading

New Urban Development: Too risky, too costly. Not.

I just heard from a colleague who had a developer tell him something along the lines of: “New Urbanism is too risky and too expensive because, you know, Kentlands failed.” That’s not an uncommon belief. What is uncommon, however, for anyone on the receiving end of such broad brush generalizations, is an easy response that fleshes out the finer, and truer, details. So here’s mine:

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Unplug! Accommodating Our Need to Escape Each Other

Sense of community. It’s been a rallying cry of New Urbanists since the beginning and for good reason. For years leading up to the birth of the neo-traditionalists, it didn’t take much effort to realize that our surroundings had changed—a lot—and not for the better.

Our neighborhoods—subdivisions, really—were isolating us from each other and from the things we needed to get done. Despite the ample comforts we’d developed to help mitigate the separation, that’s simply not a good recipe for human productivity, much less fulfillment.

There was a hole to be filled, and the distinctly market-based New Urbanists stepped in to fill it. Continue Reading

New Urbanist Cohousing: Another Arrow in Developers’ Quivers?

CNU 17, DENVER, CO – New Urbanists attending the 17th annual Congress of New Urbanism gathering in Denver will spend the next four days talking about alls sorts of overlapping , interconnected challenges: The uncertain economy, the implications of climate change, the impact of an aging society on land use planning, to name a few. About an hour away in Boulder are intriguing examples of how designers, developers, and a forward-thinking housing authority might tackle some of those issues.

The Holiday community on Broadway, about 10 minutes from Boulder’s downtown, is a ten-year-old New Urbanist development built on an old drive-in movie site. The local housing authority, Boulder Housing Partners, acquired the property in 1997, and invited five local developers to provide 300-plus units, 40 percent of which had to hit affordability benchmarks.

The Holiday community's co-housing units.

The Holiday community's co-housing units.

The general plan – retail and offices fronting Broadway, live-works, town houses, duplexes, and single family units of different scales deeper within the project – would be familiar to most New Urbanists. What sets it apart are two embedded cohousing neighborhoods – Wild Sage, a 34-unit multi-generational neighborhood, and Silver Sage Village, a 16-unit elder cohousing cluster.

Cohousing is an imported-from-Denmark approach to community building that reverses the usual relationship between resident and developer by encouraging the formation of a virtual neighborhood of people who work out how they intend to live with one another before they move in, or even choose the setting in which they’ll live. They maintain separate living units but share maintenance chores and a  common house where they dine together at least a couple times a week. It’s part commune, part condo, all community. For a more complete explanation and list of cohousing communities in the US, go here.

Before the economy went into the dumps, cohousing was attracting more and more interest, particularly elder cohousing, which seems a far more attractive way to age in place than in a car-centric suburb.  Last month, USA TODAY’s Haya el Nasser profiled life at Silver Sage. And the movement is still big enough to stage its own national get-together, June 24-28, in Seattle.

That appeal to community makes cohousing a natural ally, a potential nesting component, in New Urbanist projects all over the country.  Jim Leach, president of Wonderland Development Company credits the fast start of the whole Holiday project to the enthusiasm Wild Sage’s residents brought to the project.  And demand for units in Silver Sage Village boosted market-rate prices over the $500,000 mark for some units.

Is this something developers, who could use all the jump starts they can find in the current environment, should be paying more attention to?

Certainly Jim Leach and architect Bryan Bowen, who designed the two Holiday cohousing clusters, think so. 

– Ben Brown