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  THE TOWN PAPER
VOL. 2, NO. 9 -- AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2000
 

TND Tools: TNDhomes.com

By Jason Miller

I grew up in Lynden, Wash., a rural community in the far northwest corner of the state, four miles south of the Canadian border. I lived on Bender Road, on the edge of farmland, in a yellow house just a few steps from Fishtrap Creek. Behind my house, acres of corn blanketed the gently rolling land. In winter, my sister and I sledded down the smooth hills.

Downtown Lynden was the picture of traditional development. Front Street, a gorgeous, tree-lined roadway, led into the core. Two- and three-story buildings faced Front, many with retail stores on the ground level and apartments on the upper floors. On-street parking was abundant. Over a period of several years, downtown Lynden received an architectural facelift that better communicated the town's Dutch heritage to visitors and tourists.

Simultaneously, Lynden's edges began to succumb to the gnawing jaws of suburbia. The cornfields behind my house were leveled (as was the ground itself) and paved over with wide streets that led to large houses on large lots with lawns too big for the owners to mow. Plastic playground equipment appeared on the front lawns. Cars sped through the development; mothers sent their children to the backyards. The land immediately bordering Fishtrap Creek was at first protected from development. Eventually, though, houses went up there, too, stifling the creek with lawn fertilizer runoff and all but obliterating the cutthroat trout I had fished for during my middle-school years.

From my basement bedroom window, I stared sullenly at the ocean of houses behind my house. I didn't know how to explain my utter distaste for what I saw; at that point, all I knew was there would be no more good fishing, no more sledding during the winters. It was a poor trade; I (and the town of Lynden) lost hundreds of acres of beautiful farmland for this, this wasteland.

After pushing through high school, college and grad school, I came to HomeStyles.com in St. Paul, Minn., and heard Andrés Duany talk about the new urbanism. I was skeptical at first, thinking, "That would never work in Minnesota," and "This sounds like development for the rich."

During the days that followed, though, I recognized the traditional neighborhood development (TND) pattern for what it was: A common-sense approach to creating livable places that people will actually love.

The leadership at HomeStyles.com agreed and set a small group of us to work creating the first plan books designed specifically for traditional neighborhood developments: TND Series: Volumes I, II and III. Our partner in the venture was (and remains) Town Planning Collaborative in Minneapolis. Three separate teams of judges, including Andrés Duany, Jim Constantine and Vince Graham, among many others, juried the plans included in the volumes.

Mediocre marketing efforts took their toll on the fledgling project. Plan sales were sporadic yet encouraging for such a new venture. Conditioned to expect impressive ROI numbers that suburbia had generated since 1946, the primary TND players at HomeStyles.com found themselves taking a deep breath and holding it every time a new TND Series volume was created.

Word of mouth and a small ad in New Urban News proved to be our strongest marketing tools early on, and we started taking steps to improve our visibility. We sponsored annual "TND Breakfasts" at The International Builders' Show beginning in January 1997. I attended National Association of Home Builders TND Tours, selling books and soliciting more plans. I invited myself to the most popular TNDs and photographed them while being shown around by their developers. In January 2000, we focused our efforts on the Internet and launched our website: www.TNDhomes.com.

What makes TNDhomes.com unique is its content: 300+ building plans for neotraditional developments. No other Web site has this blend of single-family homes, live/work units, mixed-use buildings, rowhouses, multi-unit dwellings -- we even have a daycare center and a guard shack for sale. We added the feature articles from the books; more are being added regularly. TND Tours offer extended discussions of popular TNDs across the country. The Resources section provides links to crucial New Urbanist sites. Architects all over the world are invited to submit their plans for jury review.

TNDhomes.com makes it easy. Where suburbia has its zoning codes that provide a blueprint for atrocious, unlivable environments, TNDhomes.com has a searchable database that provides just the right home or building for just the right location in the master plan. TNDhomes.com is selling plans to builders, developers and municipalities all over the United States. One community just outside Easton, Md., won't let prospective residents build there unless they choose a planfrom the TND Series inventory.

Real communities are being built with plans from TNDhomes.com even as the battle with suburbia rages in such small towns as Lynden. Since I left for Minnesota, the suburban development pattern has continued to degrade Lynden's outer edges. A massive strip mall (with the requisite parking prairie) has replaced my father's best friend's farm. A sprawling subdivision has obliterated a square mile of what used to be strawberry fields. Dairy Queen and McDonald's have come to town. Safeway is knocking.

Even as I write this, another big-box grocery store is brokering a deal to buy four blocks of city property just one block from the traditional downtown. Two blocks for the store, two blocks for the parking lot. You do the math. The local merchants think it will save downtown. A city council member has said, "It's just a grocery store."

Andrés Duany said in a recent interview, "Suburbia has lost the war." I disagree. If the situation in Lynden is any indication, the war is well under way, but there are those willing to fight it. I believe tools such as TNDhomes.com are integral to creating places about which people genuinely care.

Jason Miller is the editor of TND Series Volumes I, II and III and TNDhomes.com, a Web site that provides building plans for neotraditional developments. He lives in St. Paul, Minn., in a blue-collar bungalow nestled into a 1920s neighborhood with Flannery (his cat) and a garden full of out-of-control zucchini plants (Want some?).