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New Urbanism Without Nostalgia By Axel Bishop, ASLA, CLP and Rob Layton, ASLA In a recent poll, suburban sprawl emerged as a prime concern among residents of Colorado's Front Range. Colorado is already the nation's fifth-fastest growing state; by the year 2020 Metropolitan Denver alone is expected to absorb 700,000 additional residents. Receiving the brunt of the sprawl associated with growth are communities like Brighton, a traditional farming and ranching center located just north of Denver International Airport. Another booming prairie agricultural center is Longmont, now the fastest-growing town in Boulder County. Design Concepts of Boulder has undertaken the design and planning of two new communities that provide alternatives to conventional sprawl--Bromley Park, a 3,000-acre subdivision currently undergoing approvals in the City of Brighton, and Quail Ridge, an approved 48-acre subdivision in Longmont. Both plans propose to channel growth into compact, walkable neighborhoods woven into the fabric of existing towns. The biggest problem with modern suburbs is not that they indulge car culture, but that the automobile dominates public spaces. Most residents in new developments express satisfaction with their private yards and the interiors of their homes-- they are impressed with the amenities in their development-- yet, they may also be puzzled as to why none of this seems to fit together. Something is missing. The New Urbanism is the national planning movement that proposes to correct these deficiencies in our communities. While the New Urbanism has been useful to help focus the discussion on this issue, it also presents the danger of reducing the elements of community to wistful images of front porches and picket fences. By paying too little attention to the landscape perspective, New Urbanists may be missing an opportunity. The designers' plan for Bromley Park reflects a Landscape Architect's approach to building a sense of community, a place where homeowners feel connected to each other and to where they live, emphasizing landscape features like parks, greenways, shaded streets, recreation centers, and water. Though related to the New Urbanism planning movement, the plan for Bromley is not an exercise in nostalgia. Brighton was platted in 1889, well before American communities became subsumed by paving and blank architectural facades. With about 5,000 residents, Brighton is a railroad and truck-farming center located on a former fur-trading route on the high prairie (elevation 4,979). Developer Bromley Companies, LLC hopes Bromley Park may offer an alternative to the emptiness of the sprawl syndrome. Typical subdivisions scatter services over a large area that can only be accessed by automobile. At Bromley Park, Design Concepts created a site plan for a park that includes a school, library, church and community center. All these uses will share a playground and other services. This becomes a one-stop place for families, providing relief from hectic, over-scheduled lifestyles. Children will be able to walk from the school to the library across a car-free plaza. Roads will connect the entire community rather than isolating people in dead-end streets. To create children-friendly streets and slow traffic, each corner will contain a traffic circle. Bromley Park will be more auto-friendly than most suburbs, because autos won't be funneled onto a single, jammed arterial road. On a smaller scale, Design Concepts was the principal planner for Quail Ridge, a 48-acre, 397-home community. Scheduled to begin construction in fall, it will be built in Longmont (elevation 5,000 feet), a railroad and agricultural center located east of some of Colorado's most spectacular peaks. The Landscape Architects laid out Quail Ridge around a meandering, wooded stream. The creek bisects a nine-acre central park with sports fields and open lawns visible from each homeowner's front yard. Developed by Schuck Communities of Colorado Springs, Quail Ridge is completely oriented toward parks, schools and transportation systems. To create a safe and inviting environment for walking and using transit, each street features detached sidewalks that converge upon a playground next to a heated bus shelter, serving both schoolkids and commuters. The Regional Transportation District was so impressed with the design of this area they changed local bus routes to access Quail Ridge. Like Bromley Park, the Quail Ridge plan does not merely replicate the traditional idea of the detached sidewalk; the sidewalk has been widened to accommodate cyclists and skaters as well as pedestrians. Instead of planting street trees in center medians, the plan calls for occasional naturalistic groupings of trees aimed to create the sensation of coursing down a country lane. These rights-of-way will feel and function more like greenways, yet they will be placed between the fronts of homes and houses like a sidewalk to create particularly lively, socially animated spaces. To encourage visual diversity, the design team established architectural guidelines whereby single floor plans or minor variations on a floor plan could not be used more than three times on any named street, complemented by landscaped yards consisting of 90% live material. As a result, few housing lots are identical in size and shape. Housing will range from townhomes to single family with prices starting around $100,000, well below the affordable range for Boulder County. Both the architecture and the street designs were inspired by (but do not slavishly imitate) small towns in rural America. Bromley Park and Quail Ridge represent the type of compact, focused communities the world has been building for thousands of years, except for a short time when our culture stopped paying attention to basic human needs. Both are compact communities attached to existing towns rather than leapfrogging out onto open prairie and farmland. They provide public spaces worth celebrating, fully accessible for children and pedestrians as well as autos. Most of all, these are modern places that play by the rules of mainstream development and therefore make appealing model towns. The designer's goal is to create, not copy, the kind of community America has lost during the last fifty years. LASN ***LASN publishes exclusive material only. If you are going to reproduce any article, you must cite the publication volume and month, which are provided on the heading of each article. Back issues of magazines and reprints of individual articles with full graphics may be available by calling the LASN Editorial Staff at 714-979-5276 for availability and pricing. Open spaces create the framework for development rather than serving as appendages to some variation upon the small-town grid layout. Town grids of the 19th and early-20th centuries tended to obliterate natural features making them impractical for accommodating urban growth over the long term. Instead of replicating small-town Colorado, the design team tried to learn from and apply their human scale in new development. Bromley Park embraces other prescriptions addressing the ills of modern suburbia; parks in typical subdivisions are often located behind backyards, where they intrude on homeowner privacy. At Bromley Park they will be located in public squares facing front porches and tree-lined streets-- whether driving, biking or walking, residents will always travel through parks when leaving their homes. The village greens contribute to a sense of community by encouraging socializing, focusing activities in front yards, and providing recreation and play in the centrally located playground. Rendering by Kerry Bong The City of Longmont awarded the Quail Ridge project the Housing and Urban Development Award for Innovatative Housing Design. In planning the design, the Landscape Architects focused on creating the look and feel of a traditional town by using visual variety. Many different types of houses line the streets, yet the variety creates a pattern and the overall look is harmonious. Tree-lined streets and wide sidewalks leading to schools and parks make walking a comfort. Residents see each other on the street, which generates a feeling of well-being, yet their house and backyards remain a private domain.

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March 19, 2019, 1:42 am PDT

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