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New Urbanism and Airstreams

I thought I was a fan of the principles of “New Urbanism”, but perhaps I am a fraud. Or maybe New Urbanism is — I can’t decide.

New Urbanism is a theory of community design that calls for closely-spaced residential developments with planned centers of retail shops and other community features (schools, parks, etc.) The general idea is to develop communities that fight sprawl by giving people most of what they need right in their own little village.

New Urbanism is one of those great ideas that doesn’t always get executed well. During our Airstream travels we’ve visited several New Urbanist communities, including Celebration FL, Seaside FL, Denver’s Stapleton, and Civano here in Tucson. All of these places have their distinctive features and advantages, but of them all my favorite is Stapleton. It has real diversity and the community seems well planned.

Seaside is marvelous too — you might have seen it in the movie “The Truman Show” — and it even has a couple of Airstreams in town, converted to retail shops. One, I believe, sells sushi. But if you don’t have big bucks don’t even bother asking about living there. This sort of belies a principle of New Urbanism, that it should incorporate a mix of affordable housing. Once upon a time there was affordable housing in Seaside, but not any more.

This sort of thing is on my mind because we are so busy looking at real estate. Today we checked out Tucson’s new Armory Park Del Sol which is an urban infill community that draws on New Urbanist ideals. Armory Park Del Sol’s big claim is energy efficiency — every house is well insulated (a rarity in this climate) and they all have solar panels on the roof.

But this development fell into the trap of so many others before it. Originally housing was supposed to be available at the affordable rate of $80,000 but by the time it got through the development process that vanished. We found one resale on the market, and at $265,000, it is one of the cheaper units available.

We also spent 40 minutes driving slowly through Civano, and noting all the properties for sale. I hate to admit it, but despite my intellectual interest in New Urbanism, I just can’t get psyched about Civano or most of the other New Urbanist communities. On one hand, I’m always disappointed when I visit the communities and find that the core principles are eroding or were never there: affordable housing, a mix of housing styles, energy efficiency, traffic calming, parks, walkability, discernable centers, etc. The pressure of local real estate seems to overwhelm the ideals of the developers.

On the other hand, I find that being a boy from a rural state, the crowded nature of New Urbanist communities gives me claustrophobia. So even if I found the ideal community, I might not buy into it. Again, Stapleton is the exception because of its broad open central park. Does this make me a poseur, just another guy who talks the talk but can’t walk the walk?

But perhaps it’s not just me. Have you noticed two contradictory trends? RV travel and ownership has risen dramatically since 2001, and yet most new communities (of any type, not just New Urbanist) don’t have any provision for allowing homeowners to keep their RVs nearby. To make matters worse, they usually ban RV parking entirely. (This is because RV’s are considered an eyesore, in the same category as rusty old cars on blocks. Sadly, many RV owners agree with this — except where their own rig is concerned. Then it’s the most beautiful thing they’ve ever owned.)

This means that an increasing number of people are effectively exorcised from buying into certain communities. Buying a home where we can’t have our Airstream nearby and ready to go would be like buying into a “55+ community” and just seeing Emma on weekends. The Airstream is a member of the family!

So while I still want to believe in the concept of New Urbanism, it flies in the face of my reality, at least as it is executed in most places. Can’t we live in a nice community where RV parking is allowed at least in a dedicated lot nearby? Can we dwell in a planned village, walk to “town”, have bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly streets, and still own a travel trailer? I’d like to believe we can, but so far we are not finding anything that meets the challenge, at least not here.

Compromise is the nature of real estate shopping, and I fear that in our case the compromise will mean our Airstream taking an back seat. Poor trailer. By the end of this summer it will have been our home for two years, and it will be hard to put it away, even temporarily. Perhaps in the next few weeks we’ll find the ideal home where it can stay with us, gleaming in the side yard and reminding us of adventures yet to come.

10 Responses to “New Urbanism and Airstreams”

  1. Michael Young Says:

    Rich,

    When we looked at 55+ Resort Communities, we were pleasantly surprised to find that 2 had lots dedicated to RV parking, Saddlebrooke north of Tucson and Pebble Creek in Goodyear. Because Pebble Creek is a long way from built-out, its RV park was essentially as large as it needs to be. Sure wish it was enclosed. Also, the community rules allow for parking your RV in front of your home for a day or two when you need to refit for travel. Not too bad for places that are purposely rule-bound for aesthetic reasons. No cars in driveway or open garage doors, for example.

  2. Tim Says:

    Why not look at the “Old Urbanism”. Look for a small mid size town that is nice and has a central business district and no rules about what you can do on your own property.

  3. Randy Godfrey Says:

    Rich,

    I think “New Urbanism” is a fraud. Unless you own one of the shops or services in the town, it’s just another place to live. As it has turned out, it’s mostly just a place to own a property in a resort for those with lots of bucks.

    In my deed-restricted neighborhood, we have some houses that have RV garages. Living in Florida, it’s a good idea to keep your RV indoors because of the brutal sunshine. I unfortunately don’t have one of those houses, so I pay $6.00 per foot to keep my Airstream at a nearby indoor storage facility.

    In our HOA, the deed restrictions say no RVs on the property at all. There are some residents that think if you don’t have one of the homes with a garage where you can keep your RV out of sight, you shouldn’t own one—a ridiculous position to take. The Board decided to “compromise” and passed a rule that said you could have your RV exposed for five hours. Nobody on the Board had ever owned an RV, or they would have known that there are times that this isn’t enough. It’s also unfriendly to residents who have guests that arrive in an RV, where are they supposed to put their rig? There are several of us who are trying to get this changed. The one to two days allowed by Pebble Creek seem like a good idea.

    Good luck with your search.

  4. Jill Says:

    I believe it’s the planning that is the problem. You can plan from here to eternity, but if the people involved don’t believe it and live it 100%, it will falter. On the other hand, if several neighbors in any community lived by the ‘new urbanism’ values, the neighborhood would become what the others are trying to mold themselves into, regardless of garages being in the back of the houses.

    Most people want to live the slower lifestyle of waling or biking to do errands, walking to schools, etc., but without giving up the speed and expediency of cars. The people will always have more influence than the place.

    For a satirical take on a related matter, go here:

    http://www.theonion.com/content/node/51852

  5. Roger Smith Says:

    From time to time my wife likes to look at houses and the FIRST thing I look at is RV parking. We have been fortunate enough to be able to park our Airstream at our last two homes. I don’t know how I would survive if I could not have it near, not just for the emotional aspect but the ease of performing maintenance.

    Not to mention the use as a ‘guest house’. We previously parked it next to our driveway and the 25 footer went right up to the sidewalk. I can imagine our neighbors were not happy because it blocked their view. Now we have it down the side of our our house with enough space for a 31′ (full story at my blog).

    All in all, I don’t care what ‘urbanism’ is going on as long as I don’t have to store my Airstream somewhere else.

  6. Tom Evans Says:

    Have you considered Peachtree City, GA. It is near where I live and has a diverse mixture of home styles, lot sizes and is only 20 minutes from Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. All neighborhoods are connected via golf cart paths totaling more than 80 miles worth. Most neighborhoods either have RV storage lots or allow you to keep them on-site. The schools are some of the best in the country as well. Not the desert southwest, though.

  7. Lisa C. Says:

    I’m recomending you check out the co-housing neighborhoods. Don’t let the name bug you. It sounds alot like new urbanism, but on a smaller scale. http://www.cohousing.org/default.aspx In Tucson look for Milagro, Sonora and Stone Curves.

  8. Fred Coldwell Says:

    Hi Rich: New Urbanisn tends to be too cute and clean cut, prohibiting the clutter that comprises life. Instead of cookie-cutter, think studio or warehouse space. Look for urban re-developments of 2nd floor artist’s lofts with open ground floor workspace (“studio”). If designed by practical people, the ground floor studio will be 12′ high and have 10′ overhead garage door, adoptable for storing a RV or three. :) Such in-fill developments are made for creating messes (“art”), and loud noises and unusual pursuits are welcomed, not zoned out. Heck, you’re an artsy family and Airstreams are pure art, just the outside-the-lines combination such places are designed for. So search for real “artists lofts with studio” when shopping for real estate, and you may find practical heaven on earth in funkier and more accommodating parts of towns.

  9. Randi Says:

    I’m with Fred…I’ve been daydreaming for months about an *outside-the-lines combination* just like he mentions.

  10. angie Says:

    I believe it’s a bit of a fraud and is way too crowded. The house plans are knock-offs and fall short of practical much less beautiful and are over priced. It seems like a great idea but appears to be creating more crowding, lest value and less quality. I’m with the person that suggested the small to mid size town that already exists. They have better set backs from what is here to stay unfortunately…the car! We need space to breath and the in the ‘new urbanism’ developments the houses are right on the street. Isn’t this obvious?

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