2009 Real Estate Guide
real estate
America's moving back downtown

New Urban villages, which by some counts number more than 150, range greatly in size, scope and focus. A few notables include:

Virginia: Arlington's transit-oriented Rosslyn-Ballston Metro Corridor, created in the 1990s. It now features 24,000 residences, 20 million square feet of office, retail and commercial space, and 3,000 hotel rooms wrapped into pedestrian- and bike-friendly urban enclaves -- all in two square miles. Rosslyn-Ballston is one of the country's first "smart-growth" urban projects

Arizona: Civano, an 820-acre "traditionally styled" neighborhood in Tucson that promotes ecological harmony and social values, is expected to become home to more than 5,000 by around 2015, with many living in solar-powered homes. Civano is clustering cultural, commercial and civic activities in a new town center to create a small-town feel. Two-thirds of the jobs and half the living units will be within a five-minute walk of the village center, developers say.

Colorado: Stapleton, rising on the 4,700-acre former site of Denver's Stapleton Airport, is a network of urban villages, greenbelts, eateries, shops and employment centers with a strong focus on natural-resource conservation. Homes have a variety of price points, ranging from townhomes for less than $200,000 to Tuscan-style mansions for $1 million or more. The average listing price: $396,000. "What makes this so appealing is the walkability of the community and its amenities like retail, dining, parks, recreation centers, pools and daycare -- and even a dog park in Stapleton," says Mike Hart, vice president of Denver-based Wonderland Homes. "People are willing to give up yards for that." Unlike many smaller urban villages, many Stapleton residences include small garages accessible from rear alleys.

Transportation is key

Transportation will continue to be a huge issue in driving the growth of urban villages, Bernstein says. Many suburban households don't fully factor in transportation expenses in their family budgets and quickly land in the red after discovering they need several cars to shuttle family members, he says. Real estate reports from numerous cities anecdotally indicate that foreclosure hot spots are fewer in central-city New Urban locales per capita than in the suburbs, says Bernstein.

Further shifts in the average age and make-up of the population are also bound to make such mixed-use enclaves more popular, Burden says. "In just a few years, 30 percent of the population is going to be over age 65, and they are going to want to be closer to dining, services and medical facilities," he says. "At the same time, our country is growing more ethnically diverse, with people coming from parts of the world, people who already understand village life and will prefer that."

Dozens of cities are responding to calls for smart-growth neighborhoods and are putting more urban villages and green preservation districts on the drawing board. Plus, they're tweaking the formula using industry-best practices to create the types of self-contained communities that dominated American life prior to World War II.

"America is moving back downtown," Burden says.

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