Real Urbanism Is Rare

While I am not fan of New Urbanism , the regeneration of suburbia is a pet interest of mine and Chris Bradford’s commentary on the problems experienced in Austin Texas from Sustainable Cities Collective highlights the real problems experienced in trying to solve the parkiing problem and how we are not prepared to pay individually or collectively to solve its problems – its probably “someone else’s” problem isn’t it?

Back in 1998, Cedar Park adopted a comprehensive plan that set aside 42 acres of land along Highway 183 for a mixed-use, village-like town center.  They imagined something like this:

Cedar Park Town Center
The plan called for the city hall to be built there to anchor the town center and for the rest to be filled in with apartments and boutique shops.   But in 2007 the city voters turned down a tax hike to build the city hall there,settling on a cheaper location that had existing buildings.

The plan was approved in 2001 and has been updated since, but the large tract of land lies fallow.  D.R. Horton owns the tract and has been seeking PUD zoning that would allow it to break from the boutique-shop plan and build something more like a generic shopping center.  This upset a bunch of the people who bought near the tract on the assumption that it would be a new-urbanist village.   Their protests have evidently worked, for now, because D.R. Horton has taken down its rezoning application.

I don’t blame the folks for wanting a quaint, urbanist town center.  But, honestly, the kind of thing they want is really an urban kind of thing, and is very hard to grow in a cow pasture.

Here’s the economics:

There are no buildings in the town center today.  Everything must be built from scratch.  That means the retail must be built from scratch.  And new retail space in a mixed-use village is just as expensive, if not more expensive, to build as retail bays in a new shopping center.

No one’s going to build that retail space unless they get the rents to make it worth their while.  And in order for the small shops they have in mind to generate the necessary rents, there must be a lot of traffic.  The kind of traffic this area will never generate on its own — there are no significant job centers nearby, and there is no chance that the center will develop the residential density that could sustain a retail district by itself.  The town center doesn’t even sit astride a major arterial, so drive-by traffic is out.

There’s simply nothing to generate the kind of traffic retail would need to pay the rents to justify the construction cost . . . unless they were to build a lot of retail, with anchors to ensure a steady stream of traffic, and a lot of parking for all those cars.  But that’s a shopping center, not a town center.

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One thought on “Real Urbanism Is Rare”

  1. Thanks for sharing. I will stay in touch for more information.. Town planning is the profession that concerns itself with the health and quality of life in urban places-cities and their suburbs, small towns and rural villages. Just as veterinarians care for animals as different as dogs are from iguanas, urban planners care for cities as different as New York City is from Boscobel, Wisconsin. And just as a veterinarian needs to be able to work with the circulation, digestion.

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