New Urbanism a good sign for housing

Marketplace Staff Dec 30, 2009

New Urbanism a good sign for housing

Marketplace Staff Dec 30, 2009


Stacey Vanek-Smith: Ever since the housing market collapsed — taking the rest of our economy with it — all eyes have been on that sector for signs of recovery. And those signs have been mixed at best. On the bright side, the success of the so-called “New Urbanist” developments. From St. Louis Public Radio, Adam Allington explains.

Alan Allington: What’s a U.S. homebuyer to do? You’re nervous about buying in a city, with its old infrastructure, messy politics and complex social issues, but you’re not that jazzed about the idea of cul du sac living either.

“New Urbanism” proposes a third option: compact, walkable communities, with a mix of houses apartments and stores.

Tim Busse is the architect behind one of the hottest New Urbanist Projects in the Midwest: New Town at St. Charles, where homes are still being built at a brisk pace.

Tim Busse: It has continued to perform very well through the recession.

Twenty-two hundred people live in New Town, about 30 miles west of St. Louis — think California bungalows and French Quarter chic, throw in a general store and a few shops.

This small house, still just studs and drywall, is precisely what Busse claims many homebuyers want: opportunities to downsize.

Busse: I’ve never in my career designed a house that’s 600 sq. foot completely customized to an owner’s specifications. And so this represents, I think, part of the future of development.

Peter Calthorpe is an urban planner often associated with the New Urbanism movement. He says over the past several decades, developers have adopted a one-size-fits-all approach. All houses in a subdivision were the same size — big. And that’s a problem.

Peter Calthorpe: We tend to think of this housing boom and bust as a problem around credit and financing. The reality I think is we’ve been building too much of the wrong stuff for too long.

Calthorpe says there’s a way to avoid selling people homes they can’t afford — give consumers more choice, on smaller lots with better access to public transit. But others accuse the New Urbanists of simply designing better sprawl on the edge of cities.

John Burse: You have to wonder, why are we building on the fringe like that?

John Burse is an architect with Mackey Mitchell:

Burse: Should it be built here, or should we not be concentrating our energies on making our inner cities more livable and solving these tough issues that we have?

New Urbanist projects account for just a tiny fraction of homes being built. Even New Town’s success wasn’t enough to save it’s developer from bankruptcy in October as sales of the company’s other properties plunged 70 percent.

I’m Adam Allington for Marketplace.

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