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New Urban Communities: trying to define them, and some of our top picks

Category: Uncategorized

By Shannon Keating

What do you think of when you think of an urban community? Sparkling nightlife, blends of cultures, tons of great restaurants, a large diverse population, plenty of job opportunities… or terrible traffic, nightmarish snares of public transit, and  overcrowding?

Cities and large towns offer unparalleled entertainment and worlds of opportunity, but the messy aspects of urban living can deter plenty of people from taking advantage of all that cities have to offer. If you are similarly hesitant, consider new urban communities.

New Urbanism is an urban design movement which primarily promotes walkable neighborhoods while maintaining diverse options for jobs and housing. Traditional neighborhood design, or TND, largely informs New Urbanism – the key word here being traditional. There is not necessarily anything new about New Urbanism; more so, the movement is making efforts to put a new spin on old concepts of efficient city planning which were practiced before the rise of the automobile. The movement additionally supports universal access to open public spaces, historic preservation, intra-neighborhood racial and economic diversity, sustainability, affordable housing, and a variety of aspects of green living. There are over six hundred new cities and neighborhoods currently being planned under the guidelines of New Urbanism. No new urban, master-planned or traditionally designed city has followed the exact same principles; all these categories are certainly broad and ever-changing. That said, we have compiled here a list of some of our favorite communities which  fall under the label of New Urban.

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Columbia, Maryland is one of the largest and most successful new urban master-planned communities in the world, as well as one of the oldest. Located between D.C. and Washington, Columbia consists of 9 village centers for prime walkability. Three lakes provide water activities, while parks, swimming pools and sports clubs provide more opportunities for recreation. Local bars and an outdoor concert venue make for great nightlife. The population is currently just under 100,000.

Reston, Virginia Another old community, Reston was planned and zoned in response to the rise of the car. High rise condominiums in the center of town are surrounded by parks, golf courses, almost 20 swimming pools, shops and restaurants. It’s somewhat expensive, but crime is low.

California City, California Since 1965, this master-planned community in the Northern Antelope Valley of Kern County  is home to a community center, tennis courts, an athletics center, a pool, two parks and a senior center. It’s a college town, featuring Cerro Coso college. A PGA golf course is also located here. It’s a little bit out of the way, tucked in the deserts and mountains, but there’s enough here to keep you occupied.

Abacoa, Florida Nestled in Jupiter, Florida, Abacoa is centered on a vibrant main street which includes shops, movies, restaurants, and the Theater Green which hosts a variety of performances and town events. The Florida Marlins and the St. Louis Cardinals train for the summer at Roger Dean Stadium. Housing choices range from small to grand options. Town squares and greenways make large Abacoa pretty, comfortable and walkable.  It prides itself on respect for the environment and a strong feeling of community.

Fairhope, Alabama One of the first planned communities in the United States, Fairhope is an affluent suburb of Mobile that is lush, green, and waterside; plenty of homes have views of the lovely Mobile Bay, which is also accessible by the large town pier. Crime is very low. The city is kept well entertained by various events and festivals throughout the year, ranging from the Fairhope Music Festival to the Alabama Coastal BirdFest.

The Woodlands, Texas The Woodlands uses a classic old square concept which offers a wide range of housing options to serve a variety of socioeconomic statuses. A condo can be rented for just over $1,000 a month or a single family home purchased for over a million; the options run the gamut. Water taxis offer easy transportation across town. If you can beat the humidity, The Woodlands offers close proximity to Houston culture as well as sporting its own amphitheater and over 150 restaurants.

Peachtree City, Georgia Here’s a newer community in the batch. Peachtree, about 25 miles from Atlanta, is a recent entrant to the scene of new urban communities. Broken down into four distinct neighborhoods, each offers its own recreation, elementary schools and shopping areas. Peachtree is one of the wealthiest towns in Georgia, so it’s not as economically diverse as other options.

Seaside, Florida One of the most famous of the new urban communities, driveways and garages are tucked away to encourage pedestrian traffic. This mixed-generation community is home to all ages. While its diverse in that sense, it’s definitely not socioeconomically; in fact, it is often considered a resort town since many people rent just for vacation. Therefore, Seaside may lack as much of a sense of community as some of our other options. It’s beautiful and vibrant, but expensive.

Mesa del Sol Culturally rich and naturally stunning Albuquerque is home to brand new Mesa del Sol, a 16,000-acre master planned community that has been in the planning and construction phases since the early 1980s. Homes range from 1,200 to 2,700 square feet. The centerpiece of the community is an environmentally-friendly building with shops, restaurants and office space.  

Expanding the definition

The parameters for what actually defines a master-planned or new urban community are definitely vague, especially as sustainability, diversity and housing movements rapidly develop and change. While they may not be categorized specifically as new urban communities, old cities like Savannah, Georgia and Washington, D.C. were the original master-planned, with city centers and citizens who still walk, bike and take public transportation more often than they drive. New York, New York is also famously walkable and commuter-friendly, while Seattle, Washington has the most green spaces of any urban area in the US. So, depending upon what your biggest priorities are, you can get the great elements of a new urban or master-planned community without having to adhere to strict definitions.

What does a new urban community mean to you? Let us know in the comments below!

Posted by admin on October 6th, 2013

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