For those who have read Witold Rybczynski’s Last Harvest: How a Cornfield Became New Daleville, the following story reveals what adding the housing market crash to cornfield-new urbanism looks like. Last Harvest covered the events surrounding the conversion of a cornfield west of Philadelphia into a neotraditional, new urbanist, or simply how-things-use-to-fly-and-that-we-really-like, neighborhood. But again, the cornfield/exurban location is the interesting choice for these types of developments. The communities form in isolation, albeit they are walkable internally. You just have no where to go once you reach your neighborhood’s edge, other than stepping into a farmer’s bean field.
Town Center in Macomb County, MI is a planned community of similar attributes: surrounded by farms, far away from the metropolitan core (Detroit), and with a unique set of zoning regulations compared to the township. However, the timing differs significantly between the two locations, with Town Center having suffered developing around the time of the housing crash. Halted construction painted a scene of unfinished residential streets, half built homes, and the pioneer residents scattered about an otherwise rural landscape.
With a recent surge in construction finally, something is surprising the few residents of Town Center. Homes that are going up now are of an inconsistent design compared to the extremely strict zoning guidelines for pre-housing bubble burst Town Center. The developers are saying they are still meeting the regulations, and as this plays out Town Center will serve as an interesting study regarding new urbanist zoning post housing collapse. As a partially developed site like Town Center continues to sit, an eagerness to build may be resulting in relaxed regulations. A new urbanist planned community as such may not be in any position of being too picky over precise architectural conformity. These early homeowners do in fact have a beef if all of a sudden their desired neighborhood does not come to fruition, especially when homes start going up that are not within the planned community’s guidelines.