Kaid Benfield Archive


America’s top 10 (newish) neighborhoods for 2008 feature sustainability

Kaid Benfield

Posted August 7, 2008 at 4:43PM

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The magazine Cottage Living has released its 2008 list of the best neighborhoods in the country.  Their feature is really well done IMHO.

Despite the magazine’s name, their choices aren’t necessarily “cottage-y” as I usually think of the word, but they are many terrific things, including convenient, walkable, welcoming, mixed-use and, in my favorite cases, great examples of infill and adaptive reuse of previous, now obsolete development. That's sustainability in action.

For example, the Noisette development in North Charleston, South Carolina, first caught my attention when its developer applied to participate in the pilot program for LEED for Neighborhood Developmenta home in Oak Terrace Preserve (by: Noisette Company)Later, Keith West of the Noisette Company was kind enough to send me a package of information about the development.  (Although NRDC is a partner in LEED-ND, I am not directly involved in individual certification reviews.)  One of Noisette’s neighborhoods, Oak Terrace Preserve, features 374 homes (including the one pictured at left) on 55 acres.

Noisette appears to be doing everything right – creating a great place to live, work and play while re-using an abandoned Navy base, building green, restoring wetlands, creating walkable scale, building complete streets, and using land efficiently so the development can absorb growth that might otherwise go to sprawl locations.  Over a 20-year period, the developers anticipate building 5,000 homes along with parks, commercial areas, and other good stuff.  Here’s a photo and rendering showing how one of the main streets will be transformed:

a street in the Noisette site (by: Noisette Company) the same street, as envisioned (by: Noisette Company) 


(For another North Charleston project that is doing things right, look here.) 

Another redevelopment project among the magazine's top 10, Baldwin’s Run in Camden, New Jersey, used HOPE VI funding to transform a deteriorating 1930s Baldwin's Run (by: Pennrose Properties)public housing project into a new, mixed-income, award-winning community of rental units and attractive owner-occupied homes.  The web site of the neighborhood’s developer, Pennrose Properties, says that, “by designing and building a mixed-income multi-generational community, which seamlessly integrated the 297 rental units with the 219 homeownership residences and a state-of-the art 74-unit affordable senior complex, the development team achieved a stable sustainable neighborhood.”   Baldwin’s Run also now includes a multi-purpose community center, an improved neighborhood park, and a site for a new school.

A third featured neighborhood, Boulder’s Holiday is both derived from and a subject of the movie business.  Its site was once a drive-in theatre (named, of course, the Holiday) and the neighborhood has since become featured in Dave Wann’s Designing a Great Neighborhood: Behind the Scenes at Holiday (one of DW’s excellent photos appears below).  I haven’t seen it yet but now I really want to. 

According to Wann’s website, where you can order the DVD, the film follows the progress of Holiday’s Wild Sage Cohousing Community, where future residents participated in the design of their own neighborhood. The stated architectural goal of Wild Sage is a "zero emissions" neighborhood in which “solar energy, energy efficiency, and changes in behavior eliminate the need for fossil fuels.”  Who can quarrel with that aspiration?  Holiday also contains a substantial component of below-market affordable housing, built seamlessly into the architecture of the community as a whole. 

townhomes in Holiday (by: David Wann)The Holiday neighborhood’s own website lays out a vision for a great community:

“The Neighborhood provides work place options for small businesses, artisans and entrepreneurs, and diverse housing choices for households of all types.

“Parks and gardens are within walking distance. Front porches provide a comfortable transition between the privacy of your home and the public space of the community.

“At Holiday Neighborhood, you will find a great lifestyle complete with neighborhood businesses, convenience and community.”

Many such claims are made for new development, of course, but Holiday appears to be making them real, and kudos to Cottage Living for giving them a pat on the back.  There’s much more about Holiday in this excellent article.

The ten winners selected by the magazine are:

Serenbe (Palmetto, GA)
Baldwin's Run (Camden, NJ)
NorthWest Crossing (Bend, OR)
Parkview Neighborhood (Redding, CA)
Agritopia (Gilbert, AZ)
Arbolera de Vida (Albuquerque, NM)
Holiday Neighborhood (Boulder, CO)
Westside (Kansas, MO)
Noisette (North Charleston, SC)
Prairie Crossing (Grayslake, IL)

A distinction between this top-10 list and the "most walkable" list published a couple of weeks ago by Walk Score is that all of these new choices either are still undergoing development or have finished only just recently.  Walk Score's picks were all older communities.  So, this is some of the best of the new, and the best ones really are designed to mimic the characteristics of the older ones.

One of the great things about the story’s web site is a two-minute video about each community, as told by neighborhood residents and others involved in their making.  For a sample, here’s the one on Noisette, where you can really see the transformation taking place: