Coming Soon To A Neighborhood Near You
But the suburbs of the next 10 years are likely to look a lot different from these twisting cul-de-sac developments stuffed with behemoth center-hall colonials and faux brick facades. As town planning boards wring their hands to preserve precious open space from grabby developers, Americans in general are taking an obliging look back at a very old concept: the town square.
The staggering run-up in prices in tony towns with picture-postcard Main Streets (like Moorestown, Haddonfield, Doylestown and New Hope) has convinced some key developers that there’s an untapped market for village living. In the next several years, a brave few will be building communities that feature not only a mix of single homes, townhouses, apartments and condos, but also retail stores, community centers, post offices, markets, and that rarest of suburban development features: sidewalks. They’re responding to the desire of the boomers’ kids, who grew up in suburban isolation and now are thirsty for a tall glass of Mayberry.
“I remember not long ago hearing people getting excited about buying a riding lawn mower and mowing their back 40,” says W. Joseph Duckworth, president of Arcadia Land Company, a builder in Wayne. “I don’t see that anymore.” While Duckworth believes there will always be demand for the ever-vulgar McMansion, he sees a sea change coming as homeowners fatigued by the daily grind of endless kid-shuttling and driving miles for ice cream seek more manageable lives. His model? Downtown Princeton. “It costs a fortune,” he says, “because everybody wants that.”
In the next few years they’re likely to get it. The first big test of the new suburbia: developments in Huntingdon Valley and near Coatesville, scheduled to be completed in two and five years respectively, that will feature retail and restaurants. “Twenty years ago, all of the places like Lambertville were thought of as dowdy, unstylish, not the right place to be,” says Duckworth. “They had old housing stock. Now the sentiment is that everyone I know would love to live within two blocks of a town like walkable Wayne — because it’s the nicest little place imaginable.”
How to know if an old, forgotten town is on the way to a comeback? Figure out if it has a parking problem. “Every place they make it easy to park, nobody wants to go to,” Duckworth says. “Nobody wants to cross a parking lot as a walking experience — it makes it feel like a Wal-Mart. Having a parking problem is one of the great indicators of a vital place.”