Interesting Article

I googled and found an interesting article about New Urbanism that was in the New Urban News.  One function of new urbanism that I believe is misunderstood and too often miscalculated in developments is the mixed use aspect of projects.  This article states, I think correctly, that the commercial portion of a mixed use project should be able to stand on its own, even if there were no mixed use component as a part of it.  Sadly, I think too many people force commercial development into a mixed use project when it should not have any.  The laws of economics still prevail in mixed use and suburban developments.  The picture is the site a future commercial new urbanism project. 

Let me know your thoughts about this article.

http://newurbannetwork.com/article/four-keys-successful-town-centers

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Visiting Metro Atlanta New Urbanism projects 1

In this category I will go over different New Urbanism projects, many of which I have personally visited.  The first project I would like to talk about is Serenbe (www.serenbe.com).  This is a large mixed use project in South Fulton County.  It was started by Marie and Steve Nygren.  This property was originally purchased by them as a rural getaway from Atlanta.  In short, as they saw Metro-Atlanta marching further out, they helped form a 40,000 acre alliance called the Chattahoochee Hill Country.  This alliance, now a city in South Fulton, created a set of development codes based upon New Urbanism.

Serenbe was the first development to start after the Chattahoochee Hill Country was formed.  The development has a town center in the middle of the property that mimics historic downtown areas.  The residential is clustered around this town center and a large portion of the property is conserved as open space.  As I said, I have been to this project numerous times and it is very well built and most that go there think it is wonderful project.  However, I would like you to visit their website and decide if this type of development should be mandated.  If you look at the businesses that are located in the town center, they are mostly artists, art galleries, spas and the like.  These are businesses that thrive in an environment like this.  I would contend also that many of their customers come from other marketing avenues such as past clientele, the internet, etc.  One business I visited is closed until March.  How many of you have the luxury of closing your business until March?  If you notice, there are no businesses that provide any type of services that you use in your daily life.  Therefore those that live in this community cannot walk to the store to get what they need, they will have to drive somewhere else to get what they need.

The prices are also upper tier in Serenbe.  A quick search of homes in the community produce a range of $299,000 for a 2 bedroom 2 bath to $1,000,000 for a 5 bedroom 5 bath.

Again I would like to emphasize that I think Serenbe is an excellent development and a great choice.  I applaud the Nygren’s for this quality development.  My question for the reader – should these projects be mandated?

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Experiment

Part 1 of Experiment – Please read this part and answer this question before moving to the next part.  There are 2 pictures in this post.  The picture on the left is a typical suburban shopping center.  The picture on the right is a new urbanist shopping center.  Which shopping center do you like best?

Part 2 – Now ask yourself – Do you believe that the cost of your daily needs such as groceries would increase if all development had to follow the New Urbanist method pictured? and How much more on a percentage basis are you willing to pay for your daily needs such as groceries if the New Urbanist method had to be implemented?  It would be interesting to see some posts to the answer to these questions.

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New Urbanism v/s Old Urbanism

If we look back in the history of the United States; States, Counties, and Cities were formed based upon transportation – just like growth patterns form today.  When the 13 original colonies were formed, which later became the first states of the US, the counties were sized so that the farmers at the furthest out point from the County seat (which is in the geographic center of the county) could ride on a horse or in a horse drawn buggy from their farm to the county seat and back in 1 day.  If you look at the counties in Georgia, most have distances to their edge borders that are no more than 10-12 miles.  There are some that are smaller and larger but this seems to be a recurring distance.  This was important because all of your government services were in the County seat and so in a 1 day trip a farmer could get to town and back to take care of numerous business activities at one time.  Because of this, the County seat became the hub of commerce for the county.  It was very difficult to travel in this era so the County seat became the most important business community for the County.  The County seat is where you could find the courthouse, dry goods store, hardware store, doctor, drug store, markets, lawyers, hotels, etc.  There were smaller communities and towns with one or a few of these services located in the county, but the County seat was definitely the main commerce hub.  Some towns grew even bigger if they were located on a rail line or especially if the town was located at a major rail crossing.

As transportation changed from horse and rail to the automobile, growth patterns changed.  As a society we became more mobile and it became more convenient to have services that were located further distances from where we lived.  Also, as the industrial revolution occurred, the need to separate dirty businesses from residences created the zoning we have today.  This lead to the common separation of uses that occurs in our suburbs today.  Some will say that the desire to separate dirty industrial uses from residences caused the suburban sprawl that has occurred today.  This is true to some degree but it is not the whole truth.  Proponents of New Urbanism today cite instances such as the butcher that lived above his shop in a downtown area.  They will tell you that because he just walks down to work and could, in the past, walk to a drug store, grocery store, etc. and meet his daily needs without the need to drive anywhere.  This is also true, but they will not tell you that that butcher like most in the US was working and saving to provide a better life for himself and his family.  They will not tell you that the butcher as soon as he could save up enough money would leave that upstairs unit to buy a house on the outskirts of town for his family to have a better life.  The butcher like most in the US today was looking for a better life and living above his shop was a way to do that, not the life he wanted to live.

Because transportation and development patterns have been changing since this country was formed, the states after the 13 original colonies utilize the Public Land Survey System, not the metes and bounds system of the original 13 colonies.  Without going into detailed description the major reasons for moving to the Public Land Survey System was because of easier and better records and better transportation.  There was no longer the need for the 1 day horse and buggy ride mentioned above.

As an example of the difference in County sizes – Georgia has 159 counties with an average size of 240,000 acres.  Colorado has 64 counties with an average size of 1,040,000 acres.  The growth patterns were beginning to change as transportation improved.

Today, most communities do not revolve around the County seat town anymore.  With the increase size of metropolitan cities, improved transportation, and improved technology, people now choose where they want to live based upon a larger geographic area than they could in the past.  In fact if you look at metro regions, the large city in the middle is synonymous with the County seat in the past driving the economy of the region.

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New Urbanism trend

New Urbanism has become the hot trend in real estate development in the last 5 years or so.  Many tout the benefits of this design which takes its theory from the small towns that were built prior to the automobile.  You will hear benefits such as walkable, sustainable, mixed use, regionalism, environmentalism, smart growth, etc.  All of these terms describe things that are not or are very hard to quantify.  These terms are more emotional.  I believe that New Urbanism has a place and I want to explore what that means.  I also believe suburban development has a place.  As we move forward we will delve into this subject and see where it takes us.

This is the first post and my blog is also a work in progress.  Any suggestions about the blog is welcomed as well.

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Up and Running

Well, I still have a lot of work to do to customize my blog, but at least now I am Up and Running.

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