Atlanta is quickly becoming a mecca for New Urbanism, which is frequently cited as a solution to urban sprawl. Glenwood Park in East Atlanta, Atlantic Station in Midtown and downtown Woodstock are just a handful of the many new-urbanism developments we have here. In addition, we’ve got communities like Serenbe in Palmetto and Montaluce Winery & Estates in Dahlonega, which demonstrate new ruralism; a subset of the new-urbanism philosophy focusing more specifically on land preservation.
New urbanism emphasizes pedestrian-friendly streets, green spaces, town centers and the clustering of buildings. If you’ve been to Seaside in the Florida panhandle, home to such people as Vera Bradley co-founder Barbara Bradley Baekgaard, you’ve seen the template for new-urbanism communities nationwide. Seaside also provided the setting for the 1998 movie “The Truman Show” starring Jim Carrey.
As a homeowner, the quality of life is markedly superior to traditional housing when the homes are adjacent to extensive acreage or built around something coveted like the Emerald Coast in Seaside. “Compact is good, but having some nature in there is kind of the magic ingredient, I think,” said Charles Brewer, who founded Mindspring (now Earthlink), created Glenwood Park in Atlanta and is now building another new-urbanism community, Las Catalinas, in Costa Rica. For this reason, new-urbanism communities are also often travel destinations as well.
The other key is in designing the homes in a way to optimize privacy. A well-done community tends to allow residents to be much more social, but also private.
“When I want to socialize, I can go out my front door and there are neighbors walking their dog, or walking to the restaurant and you can always have a conversation,” said Steve Nygren, whose family created Serenbe, a 1000-acre community. “But if I feel like being quiet, I go out my back door and you’re out in the country. All our homes back up to a preserved forest, organic farm, wildflower meadow, or a pasture.”
You’ll also often see thriving commercial areas in these developments, which reflect the homeowners and, in some cases, the vacationers. So you have a lot of innovative ideas coming out of a community like Serenbe, for example, which emphasizes green living. Right now a trend in the consumer world is upcycling, the use of recycled materials to create something new (like Ecoist’s popular handbags made out of candy wrappers), and some of Serenbe’s boutiques like Bloom, Green Pomegranate and Repurpose, showcase this.
Work began on Seaside in the early 1980s. It’s a half-mile parcel of land, which was passed down to its founder Robert Davis. He grew up to be a developer and had a vision of creating a storybook beachfront community where people could take evening strolls, sit on their front porches and enjoy Northwest Florida’s traditional architecture in eclectic colors and styles with ample windows and cross ventilation. Davis didn’t set out to build a green community, but he ended up setting a standard for green developers nationwide. Seaside has already influenced over 500 communities across the country.
© Mike Eastman. All Rights Reserved.
Mike Eastman is a Yale-educated Atlanta real-estate specialist, who has provided expert commentary to BobVila.com, HGTV’s The Front Door, the book Sell Your Home Fast in a Buyer’s Market and Home Improvement Magazine. He was also featured and quoted in Atlanta magazine and The Atlanta Business Chronicle.