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Thursday, July 2, 2009

How Other Communties Do It

Lately I've been doing some research on Farmer's market as my previous postings indicate. I came across a timely article that is speaking to the changes in urban landscapes as they are encroached upon by real estate developers and the surrounding cities.

I have long had this fascination with how things are changing across America today that has this weird association with the game Sim City my sons used to play before it warped into Sim People. In this game the user builds and designs a city. The key is making the city balance between industry, commerce, private housing, and the associated services (police, fire protection, utilities)so that it doesn't run out of cash flow before enough people move in.

As the game progresses and the city grows (if you haven't torn out your hair in frustration or borrowed the equivalent of the entire Sim treasury first) it reaches the capacity of the playing space (maximization of land use). Then it stalls out and begins dying. In between screams of my frustrated younger son and the mockery of his older math-headed brother I gathered that the remedy for this is to go into each city block and build the equivalent of a small city unit in each block. Rather like putting the microscope on a city and rebuilding the whole into a series of parts that are replicas of the bigger system.

I find that strategy interesting and have given it a lot of though since my MBA years. The idea of building in value to each and every community unit. Sustainability and accountability on a smaller neighborhood level. While this concept hearkens back to eras gone by in America it might explain why accountability appears to have been more effective in less modern eras. Smaller numbers to deal with and a personal investment in the local surroundings.

Now of course my brain is off and running at this idea. That is just who I am. It may pan out to be useful and it may have dead-ends. I certainly can't be the first person that has come up this idea of community based planning. I am sure it has a trendy academic name in some professorial book.

Anyhow, to end this long missive, new, or old-new-again-old strategies for improving individual quality of life and creating sustainable communities is an avid interest of mine.

Home Buyers Are Drawn to Nearby Organic Farms -
“Open space improves the return for a developer,” Mr. McMahon said. “We have 16,000 subdivisions around golf courses, where developers found they could charge a lot premium of 25 to 50 percent over comparable tract subdivision. But most people who live on golf courses do not play golf.”

The latest variation on this is blending in working agriculture, Mr. McMahon said. Living with a farm, he noted, can bring a buyer permanent views, wholesome activities for children, access to walking and riding trails and inclusion in an epicurean club.

Here in South Burlington, David Scheuer, a developer, runs a firm called Retrovest that specializes in pedestrian-friendly subdivisions. He is adapting the Prairie Crossing model with a 220-acre project called South Village, where he eventually hopes to sell 334 homes at prices of $200,000 to nearly $700,000.

A 16-acre segment of the property, which was not previously used for farming, is now producing lettuce, garlic and other crops, which are harvested for sale to homeowners and others from the area who have joined a local community-supported agriculture group. “Agriculture can be the caboose on the train,” Mr. Scheuer said, “and housing can be the engine.” Once he is selling 20 homes a year, he said, he hopes to pay the salary of a full-time farmer.

At the 220-home Serenbe project near Atlanta’s airport, the cachet of local produce has been added to retiree-friendly businesses, including galleries, a bed-and-breakfast and three restaurants. Steve Nygren, an Atlanta restaurant impresario, started the project on his 900-acre farm.

“We preserved forest and pasture, and there were 20 acres left for an organic farm, and we also have a large wildflower meadow,” Mr. Nygren said. “We’ve set up the design so 90 percent of the houses back up to one of those natural amenities. We are selling our lots at a premium that’s probably three times what the raw lot is.”

Mr. Nygren has focused Serenbe’s second phase on “edible landscaping,” he said. “At street corners there are blueberry bushes, fig bushes, peach trees and spotted apple trees.”

And in more rural areas, developers are buying big tracts of ranchland and selling small lots to buyers. David Hamilton, a principal in Qroe Farm Preservation Development, is pursuing this approach at the sprawling Bundoran Farm subdivision outside Charlottesville, Va. “We go through a mapping process to see functional agricultural units, if they are good for apples or cattle or whatever, then see where they go together.

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