One of Wikipedia’s definitions of success is “achievment of an objective/goal.

So if we want to know if a project is succesful whether it be New Urbanism or Suburbanism, we have to define first what the object/goal is. 

My observation about typical suburban development is that the only real object/goal is to make money.  Historically suburban developments appear to disregard any aesthetic value, pedestrian access, etc.  Only in the last 10 or 15 years have local residents realized they can make these projects at least look a little better by voicing thier concerns at zoning hearings.  However, to appease these concerns it appears many developers just add some screening, landscaping and brick to the projet.  These projects started out ugly but functional and they have become not as ugly but functional.  If a profit is the only object/goal then we will get ugly functional developments because increasing profitability occurs with higher revenue and lower expenses and the developer will save every penny he can with the least expensive materials and design. 

On the other hand, many new urbanist projects seem to have as the main or only goal to be aesthetically pleasing and walkable.  Many times you get the sense from new urbanist planners that if the project is walkable and looks great but looses money then it is a success.  That is not true.  A project needs to be profitable and designed well.  I have personally been to conferences that study new urbanism projects and in one conference in particular, we visited several new urbanism developments.  The conference leaders took us to a project and touted how great it was and showed how wonderful the design and layouts were.  They even had local residents come by and tell us what a great place it was to live.  The town center had artist studios, a coffee house, restaurants, and many ohter cool stores.  Finally, how the project was built came about.  It was next to a typical suburban style shopping center.  This was part of the original vacant tract of land that the developer sold off for a suburban shopping center to help finance his new urbanism project.  He started his new urbanist project while at the same time pitching one last piece of the suburban shopping center to a national retailer. For some reason we were not told, the national retailer decided not to purchase the last piece of the suburban shopping center and the developer ran out of money to continue with his new urbanism project.  The lender on the new urbanist project then foreclosed on the project and hired the delinquent developer to finish the project.  He ended up selling off the suburban tract and developed the rest of the project.  Now new urbanism conference’s hold this project up as a success.  It was not a financial success and that must be part of the equation.  FYI, this project was foreclosed on years before the Great Recession so it was not a bad economy that made it fail. 

My point here is that both sides of the design argument must compromise.  There are places where each type of development is warranted.

About George Baker III

Commercial Real Estate agent, investor and developer.
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