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  THE TOWN PAPER
VOL. 3, NO. 3 -- APRIL/MAY 2001
 

TND Breakfast V: Breaking the Habit of Suburbia

By Jason Miller

If the war with suburbia is over, why are we still struggling with its development habits?

That was the question posed and answered at the fifth annual TND Breakfast, held February 11 at The International Builders' show in Atlanta, Ga.

Sponsored by HomeStyles, CertainTeed and TNDhomes.com, this year's Breakfast addressed the "habit of suburbia," i.e., the pattern of development that persists in America despite the giant strides made by proponents of new urbanism.

James Howard Kunstler and Robert Kramer spoke, first examining the problem, then offering an example of a new urbanist solution. This "square one," educational approach was chosen because of the fact that this was The International Builders' Show's first appearance in Atlanta, and therefore a "new" audience of builders, developers, municipal officials and media representatives was anticipated.

Kunstler took the podium first, delivering his trademark diatribe against suburban development patterns, then sounding a cautionary note about the world economy and how it will affect our lives.

"One of the chief preparations we have to make is to realize that the future is going to compel us to live differently," said Kunstler, citing an increasingly unstable oil trade and deep-seated dissatisfaction with suburbia at the grassroots level as supporting factors for his theory.

"Deep down, I think a lot of Americans are left with the dreadful feeling that we have erected and created too many places in this country that are not worthy of us, that are not worth caring about ... sooner or later, when you have built a country full of places that are not worth caring about, you will have a land, a nation, that is not worth defending."

Kunstler went on to describe the path that America followed to develop the habit of what he calls the "national automobile slum" that makes up the everyday environment for most Americans. He closed with an exhortation to the audience, composed largely of builders and developers, to "take the knowledge and skill [needed to create a land full of places that are worth caring about deeply] and put it into bricks and mortar."

Robert Kramer's presentation took the problem of suburbia and showed how one new urbanist development, Haile Plantation -- specifically Haile Village Center -- responded to the constraints of suburban zoning codes and standards.

Located in Gainesville, Fla., Haile Plantation is one of the best-executed TNDs in the nation. Kramer and his team of business partners and colleagues envisioned a community in which "people could work, shop, worship, attend school, enjoy outdoor recreation and leisure-time activities within a short walking distance or drive from their home."

They accomplished this by creating a real neighborhood with a vibrant town center, all the shops of which are accessible via a five-minute walk from the town center. That center -- dubbed Haile Village Center -- is a north/south-oriented cluster of mixed-use buildings with clear edges and enviable integration.

"In addition to the residential uses, we have office, retail and civic uses -- all within the village center," said Kramer, pointing out the untouched forests and the environmentally conscious golf course that border the town center.

Kramer and his colleagues took many of their architectural and urban design cues from nearby St. Augustine to create "a smaller, finer-grained version of that kind of urbanism."

The result of their continuing efforts is impressive. Haile Plantation is more than 20 years old now; Kramer estimates the neighborhood is roughly 70 percent finished at the time of this writing. The population is approximately 7,500, and its build-out continues at a rate of 125 to 150 homes per year. "People are beginning to like what they see," said Kramer.

A complete "TND Tour" of Haile Plantation will be posted on-line at TNDhomes.com in fall 2001.
Attendees of this year's TND Breakfast were of one mind. "Excellent," said one. "They just keep getting better," said another. If you missed the Breakfast, you can read the edited transcripts of each presentation by visiting www.TNDhomes.com.

Jason Miller is the editor of TNDhomes.com, an on-line source of building plans and resources designed to help builders, developers and municipal officials create better places to live. His first book, "The White House: A Historical Journey," will be published by Barnes & Noble in fall 2001.