New Urbanist Development Not Very New, Not Very Urban

Will city planners and those who’ve mistaken government service for a real-life game of Sim City take note about this development that, after a number of years, lacks the foot-traffic sorts of business it promised?

At first glance, a trip to the New Urbanist community taking shape on Hercules’ bayfront is reminiscent of the neighborhood depicted in the Jim Carrey movie “The Truman Show.” Each Craftsman, Victorian and Italianate home couldn’t be more perfect, glistening in an array of tasteful pastels.

But at least Carrey’s character, trapped in a seemingly idyllic seaside community, could walk to the local cafe for a cup of coffee. Three years after moving into the Promenade section of Hercules’ New Urbanist Waterfront Redevelopment District west of Interstate 80, residents still have to drive or take a long walk for items as mundane as a cup of coffee. The bustling just-walk-to-it village, touted as a model of the New Urbanist movement, has yet to materialize.

One of the tenets of the movement is that residents should be able to access essential services without having to drive to a strip mall on the outskirts of town. The idea is to locate retail hubs within walking distance of neighborhoods, or within easy access to mass transit. Currently, the mixed-use, live-work spaces on Railroad Avenue, which are meant to house these shops and services for Promenade district residents, contain real estate offices, finance firms and, of course, a company that specializes in staging homes for sale.

No, of course not; your community leaders know they’re smarter than those saps in California, and that their misunderstanding of how urban areas grow from central planning instead of organically based on industry/employment won’t make the same mistakes.

Of course, they will. They’ll drive out stinky heavy industry to beam down a Star Cups (an off brand coffee shop, because a profitable corporation knows that light residential areas are risky for sustained business operations). Meanwhile, the affluent types who can live in New Urban areas because they commute to higher paid jobs elsewhere or because they’re on a trust fund/retirement will continue to draw the sorts of businesses they can support–expensive places that can survive when the customers aren’t frequent. Like real estate offices, financial firms, a company that specializes in staging homes for sale, and expensive beauty salons.

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