With the New York Times reporting that personal bankruptcies have skyrocketed in the past few months and that many of the bankruptcies are related to people facing foreclosure in the fast growing Sunbelt states of Florida, Nevada, and California, I have been wondering about how the crisis has affected New Urbanism developments.
During the 1990s and early 2000s, New Urbanist developments were proliferating across North America–and were quite prevalent in the Sunbelt. For the uninitiated, “New Urbanism” refers generally to a design strategy that mixes land uses, utilizes a relatively high density form of development, and is built to accommodate multiple modes of mobility (public transit, walking, cycling). One of the debates amongst New Urbanist theorists and practitioners centers around whether or not these communities have contributed to the sprawling conditions they are meant to counter. If these walkable communities are isolated and are being built on the suburban fringe, aren’t they just contributing to unsustainable patterns of regional development? [As an aside, I would recommend Jill Grant's recent book, Planning the Good Community: New Urbanism in Theory and Practice, which is a great primer on the movement.]
The foreclosure crisis has given rise to a whole host of related questions on New Urbanist development. One theme, we have seen in some news reports is that traditional suburbia is dead. High petrol prices, traffic congestion, and long distance commutes are making cities and urbanism the new choice for consumers. This, of course, augurs well for cities–but what are the implications for New Urbanist developments? Are they immune to the foreclosure crisis ?
I haven’t seen any academic studies, but Mike Thomas of the Orlando Sentinel had a thoughtful column yesterday on the eastern Orange County New Urbanist development, Avalon Park. This development is a good example of a large New Urbanist community being built on the metropolitan fringe. Internally, it has good design and development, but its integration into the larger metropolis is lacking. As such, according to Thomas the community is suffering in the current crisis with large numbers of foreclosures and a decrease in home prices.
It would be interesting to see if other exurban New Urbanist developments are similarly feeling the pinch. Also, how are the exurban developments stacking up to New Urbanist infill projects? I would think that infill projects might be more resilient. As a comparison, Baldwin Park–which is an infill project much closer to downtown Orlando–saw the region’s second highest number of closings in the first half of 2008. Obviously, the foreclosure crisis heated up over the summer, but these initial numbers suggest some resiliency.
In the absence of a systematic study of whether the exurban New Urbanist communities face smaller numbers of foreclosures than in conventional developments, it is hard to authoritatively comment. However, I would speculate that these communities are not immune–and may even be more adversely affected–given their higher costs, making such communities less competitive in a sellers market.