By Gail Kalinoski
Developers Add Fresh Wrinkles to a Game-Changing Movement
New Urbanism officially turns 25 this year, though its founders had been using its principles to design communities for years before the meeting of the movement’s first congress in 1993. While New Urbanism is best known for high-profile projects like Seaside, Fla., Kentlands, Md., and Norton Commons, Ky., to name a few, the movement has also influenced countless other developments, spurring the creation of walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods with town centers for public uses.
“It’s probably hard to find a new master-planned suburban development that doesn’t at least nominally reflect some of the fundamentals of New Urbanism principles,” said Stockton Williams, executive vice president of content for the Urban Land Institute & executive director of the ULI Terwilliger Center for Housing in Washington, D.C.
Today, a new generation of projects incorporating New Urbanism principles is taking shape. Rising in diverse settings across the country, these developments incorporate the latest iterations of established principles as well as cutting-edge approaches to sustainability, density and pedestrian-friendly design.
More than mixed-use
New Urbanism 2.0. That’s how Ralph Ireland, vice president of development operations at Tavistock Development, refers to Lake Nona, his company’s 17-square-mile, master-planned project in Orlando.
Lake Nona features such trademark New Urbanism elements as generous open space providing access to pedestrians and bicyclists, camouflaged parking garages and a well-integrated mix of housing and other uses, Ireland said. A cornerstone of the development is Lake Nona Town Center, a 3.8 million-square-foot mixed-use destination. Steiner + Associates, an early champion of the town center concept, is Tavistock’s development partner for the 800,000-square-foot second phase, which will encompass restaurants, retail and entertainment.
Amid its variety of single-family home designs, Lake Nona notably features a variety of innovative multifamily projects. One such property is the 201-unit Pixon, which will include 42 studios and Orlando’s first micro units. Among other amenities, Pixon will showcase such sustainable elements as charging stations for electric cars, bicycle storage and an innovative ride-sharing program that will employ onsite Tesla vehicles.
Robert Gibbs, president of Birmingham, Mich.-based Gibbs Planning Group and a leading New Urbanism proponent, notes that there is “a big difference between a New Urbanism community and a mixed-use community,” citing “good walkability” and a “good public realm” as major criteria.
“When we proposed this concept 25 years ago, we were seen as radicals that didn’t understand the markets and were just dreamers,” Gibbs recalled. “The demographics are shifting so quickly toward a major catastrophic problem, because the empty nesters and Millennials probably want the same compact mixed uses but it’s illegal to build in most communities,” he added, referring to zoning laws that limit density.
Gibbs recently created the master plan for Troy Town Center, a proposed $350 million, 125-acre project in Troy, Mich., a suburb north of Detroit. Key components would include retail, parks, a hotel and two town squares. Of note, the plan calls for the new development to be close to public buildings: city hall, the police station, the courthouse and the library. “We like four primary uses: retail, employment, residential and civic,” Gibbs explained. “That’s the Urban Land Institute’s definition of a town center. If it doesn’t have these, it’s a lifestyle center.”
College campuses are well known for sparking the student housing boom, but they can also provide fertile ground for New Urbanism innovations. One recent example is Storrs Center, a $220 million property adjacent to the University of Connecticut campus in Mansfield, developed by a team of LeylandAlliance LLC and EdR, as well as the Mansfield Downtown Partnership, a coalition of town and UConn representatives. Completed in 2016, the project comprises 11 mixed-use buildings housing 626 rental units, retail, office, townhouses, condominiums, a town square and 20 acres of nature preserves.
The impetus for Storrs Center came from the university, which was losing prospective faculty and students because it lacked a downtown nearby, explained Howard Kaufman, LeylandAlliance’s principal & CEO. The firm is collaborating with EdR on the transformation of East Hills Plaza, an aging retail center south of the Cornell University campus in Ithaca, N.Y. Final details are pending, but the concept is similiar to that of Storrs Center: a walkable, 35-acre site with student housing, office space and retail.
On the horizon
As developers and designers envision a new generation of projects embracing New Urbanism, they must grapple with a fresh wave of challenges. To begin with, one of the movement’s indispensible sectors is roiled by uncertainty.
“The retailers are reinventing themselves, readjusting themselves to the changing environments,” said Yaromir Steiner, founder & CEO of Steiner + Associates, citing the consensus that the U.S. is over-retailed by about 20 percent. In the two decades since creating the 2.9 million-square-foot Easton Town Center in Columbus, Ohio, the firm has developed another 9 million square feet of destinations influenced by New Urbanism principles.
June Williamson, an associate professor of architecture at the City University of New York and co-author with Ellen Dunham-Jones of “Retrofitting Suburbia,” points to the steady growth of transit-oriented development as a sign of New Urbanism’s future. She also calls for expanding the movement’s conventional templates. “The live-work-play mantra may not be enough,” she said. “What are other things that could be added to that triad?” Williamson’s suggestions: food production, daycare, clean industrial and wellness.
Noting New Urbanism’s commitment to social equality, ULI’s Williams cites one crucial area that calls for further investment: “There’s been much less progress on the affordable housing and mix of housing,” he said. “I think that’s the next great frontier for New Urbanism.”
All Lake Nona images courtesy of Tavistock Development; Code Wall image by Jim Holbert/MacbethPhoto.com.
Originally appearing in the CPE-MHN Guide to 2018.