A Better Suburbia
by Mark Francis
Visiting "Village Homes" for the first time, one is struck by how different this 1970s-era community looks from typical California developments. Arriving by car, one notices narrower streets and less visually dominant parking, with access kept to the edges along long, narrow cul-de-sac streets.
A visitor arriving by bike or on foot is led through the neighborhood along a green network of continuous paths lined with native and edible vegetation. It quickly becomes apparent that it is easier to walk or bike here than to drive.
One encounters a diverse mix of open spaces including small common areas between groups of houses, larger greenways along main bike and pedestrian paths, turf areas for sports, and agricultural landscapes scattered throughout the neighborhood with orchards, vineyards, and community gardens.
Many of these spaces are not simply "look-at" spaces found in more manicured developments. There are people actually using these open spaces — walking, digging, or playing, for example. When empty, there are physical traces of use such as garden furniture, tools, and children's toys. This activity communicates a sense of stewardship, of people caring for and feeling attached to where they live.
Also striking at Village Homes is the lack of some design elements promoted as essential in New Urbanist developments. There are no front porches, and front doors are often hidden at the side of houses. The developers could not decide if the front door should face the street or the common areas, so they compromised and placed them on the sides of houses. >>>
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This article is excerpted from Village Homes: A Community by Design by Mark Francis, with permission of the publisher, Island Press, Inc.
At the Village Homes development, planners laid out bicycle and pedestrian paths to encourage residents not to drive.
Photo: Tom Lamb
Village Homes site plan.
Image: Judy Corbett
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