Tuesday, March 17, 2009

--Sense of Place

If you've seen The Truman Show (or if you live anywhere within 200 miles of Florida's panhandle) then you know about Seaside. This master-planned community was one of the first places to introduce a concept of new urbanism into popular consciousness. Mt. Laurel near Birmingham is another such location here in Alabama. A fairly substantial list of Traditional Neighborhood Developments (TNDs) can be found here.

According to one report, 50% of American home-buyers are interested in TNDs, but, despite the large number of projects listed in the above link, only 5% of new home construction in the US is slated to be TND. One reason for this is obvious: the market favors a developer making a large tract of land available for individual contractors to independently build homes according to only the loosest uniform design standards. The less regulation involved in the design of the community, the fewer salaries to pay. Those savings get passed on in the form of lower price per square foot. (A quick couple of phone calls reveals that the price per square foot in Montgomery's TNDS is precisely twice that of the price per square foot in the other fastest growing subdivision in the city, Deercreek).

A TND is certainly a hot commodity, and the appeal of generating such neighborhoods is not financial alone. There is a real sense that the TND represents a better step in the evolution of home building--one in which the environment and culture are allies of the builder. This was partially inevitable: as the last bits of former outlying farms in places like Alabama were built up, more wilderness areas had to be developed. Learning to work with the land and not against it vastly improved the quality of life to be lead in these neighborhoods.

But the work is not over. TNDs will continue to be build. Indeed Hudson, Alabama is an upcoming TND to be built in the Montgomery metropolitan area. Hopefully, the builders of that TND will take into consideration the arguments of this blog that "Sense of Place" should be more than an artificial creation (does Montgomery really need an English country village? Does such construction capitalize on the natural assest of its location, or merely create a Disneyland that appeals to a certain socio-economic demographic?) but should be a way of ensuring that homes thrive as part of their environment.

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