John Philip Mason is a residential appraiser with 20 years experience and covers the Hudson Valley region of New York. He’s a good friend and a true professional who provides unique insight to appraisal issues of the day. This week, he skirts around the issue of _New Urbansim and sees discussion of more adjustments on the horizon in his weekly Solid Masonry post. Jonathan Miller [my apologies – he submitted this on time – your faithful editor was late posting it.]

When it comes to real estate development, we’ve heard the good, the bad and the ugly, with suburban sprawl being near the top (or bottom) of each of these lists. Suburban sprawl has been blamed for its impact on the environment, its lack of character and diversity, its endless monotonous landscape, its dysfunctional layout which alienates community members from one another and much more. Despite all its drawbacks, the suburbs became the option of choice for many parents looking to give their kids a piece of Americana. Now this plague of progress may finally get trumped by its first cousin, urban sprawl. In the recent New York Times article Suburbs Want Downtowns Of Their Own, Kevin Maler tells of the trend of newly developed complexes centered around an urban type setting.

No longer are buyers seeking a patch of grass so enormous as to require a rider-mower capable of compensating for any man’s lack of manliness. It would seem folks now want to live in an urban jungle, be it a tame jungle at that. They seek the look and feel of city life, without too much city. They desire for their senses to be stimulated, without being overwhelmed. And they have found it in a new form of development one young man called “instant urbanism.”

These new quasi-bohemians are looking for low scale downtown center with sidewalks, small stores, restaurants and movie theaters, all within walking distance of their homes. They are shunning the super malls and big box stores. They have tired of the endless miles of six-lane roadways flanked by a sea of parking lots and ugly strip malls. Big is out and small is in. Road rage is now passé and being replaced with a friendly “hello” as you stroll past your neighbors.

As an appraiser I can hear it now. Homeowners and real estate agents spouting a list of reasons why their nouveau urban community is superior to the one down the road, or any other within 50 miles for that matter. Can I make an adjustment for one having a butcher, another having a baker and still another having a candle-stick maker? And how much is that adjustment? It would seem Disney World is coming to a neighborhood near you, as suburban sprawl goes urban. And you can almost hear Mr. Rogers singing “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, it’s a beautiful day for a neighbor, would you be mine.

[Editor’s note: Welcome to the world of New Urbanism]

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One Response to “[Solid Masonry] Suburban Sprawl Goes Urban: It’s A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood”

  1. Rosa Koire says:

    Just stumbled onto this site in researching some valuation issues. The trouble with this ‘new urbanism’ is that retailers and city councils aren’t satisfied with small scale/small town retail, and are getting big fast. I’m seeing the effect of redevelopment on the majority of towns I appraise in. The fear of ‘leakage’ leads more and more towns to declare large areas as ‘blighted’ with an eye towards attracting major retail with tax breaks and incentives. As the retailers come thundering in they require more and denser residential development in order to support retail. Developers pack the city councils and planning departments. And suddenly, the concept of Transit Oriented Development emerges as the panacea. Towns within towns are constructed. High density residential is built at dizzying rates, and begins to be plagued with vacancy. Values begin to suffer. The New Urbanism is in danger of creating its own form of blight–towns glutted with retail find vacancy rates soaring; buildings go dark; mixed use becomes the new slum as the vision of vibrant downtowns can’t compete with large retail development. The thing is that in this search for the hometown of yesteryear it looks like we are building the redevelopment sites of tomorrow. Or am I just being negative?