Won’t You Be My Drinking Buddy Neighbor?

lifestyle — By on September 2, 2007 at 10:33 pm

You want to head out and have a beer (or two—three) with your buddies, but there’s a problem: you live in the suburbs, so here comes the rounds of “Who’s going to drive?”.  Standard suburban design, with housing separated from retail and office uses, forces people to drive for their every need, no matter how small.  One glass of wine in a nice establishment involves a minimum 10 minute car ride in most of suburbia, and any more to drink requires the presence of a designated driver. But things are changing, a neighborhood planning movement called new urbanism is creating communities all across the U.S. with design features that reduce the risk of drunk driving, so you can live in the suburbs and drink your beer too!

Heading to a park party with kegs

Heading to a park party with kegs

Promoting Community

30 to 40 adults stand talking in a small neighborhood park, their conversation knots are overlaid by the delighted shouts of almost as many kids carousing like dog packs in the warm summer’s twilight.  They are all neighbors. Every Friday night, residents of the new urbanist community  Bradburn Village in Westminster, Colorado gather for their weekly park party.  Adults socialize over beer and wine while the kids play together.   Bradburn is designed to encourage social interaction among neighbors, and judging by the packed park parties and the incredible number of social events here, it works.

Every home in Bradburn includes a large front porch—not just a token 2 foot concrete stoop.  Garages are all in the back, and homes here also have very small setbacks (the distance between the house and the sidewalk, or front yard), meaning the porches sit right above the sidewalks.  This means people sitting on their front porches easily see neighbors walking by, and they stop to talk, creating a community bond that is so elusive in most traditional suburban neighborhoods.

Porch party in Bradburn

Porch party in Bradburn

Other community features that encourage social interaction among neighbors include  public spaces such as the many pocket parks—every home in the development is a 5 minute walk from one of these green spaces—wide sidewalks, and an interconnected street grid (no cul-de-sacs) that makes the community very pedestrian friendly.   As a result of these design features, Bradburn’s residents all know each other, and many have become close, meaning if you want to socialize with your friends over a few drinks,  you just wander on down to the park or walk 5 minutes to your buddy’s home.

Walking Distance to Bars and Restaurants

Because of zoning laws in the suburbs of America, it’s actually illegal to build residences too close to bars and restaurants.  Zoning laws in most suburban areas dictate single use for different portions of land: residences here, offices here, and retail here, with buffers (usually huge, ugly walls) between.  The most beloved places in America however, don’t follow this pattern, they mix uses close together, so that it’s possible to walk to many different things directly from home.  Most of these places were developed before the car dominated the lives of Americans—San Francisco, New York, Georgetown, Charlotte.  New urbanism (which is actually just old urbanism applied to single use zoned areas) revives the idea of mixed uses in the same neighborhood, something that is currently pretty rare outside urban areas.

Shops in Bradburn

Shops in Bradburn

Residents of Bradburn Village for example, are a 5-10 minute walk from 3 different bars and over 15 restaurants, with more to come as their downtown area is developed.  New urbanist communities mix retail, office, and residences all in the same development, so if you want to get a beer or glass of wine out, you don’t have to drive.

Access to Public Transit

The voters in the city of Denver, Colorado approved a sales tax increase in 2004 to support the construction of more than 100 miles of commuter train to connect the metro area and the nearby communities of Boulder, Louisville, and Longmont.  Communities are springing up all along future proposed stops for this rail line, providing residents of these areas an opportunity to live in close walking distance to exceptional mass transit.  These developments, often referred to as Transit Oriented Developments (TOD) are also popping up in different places across the nation such as Salt Lake City, Utah.  The new urbanist community of Daybreak will have two light rail stops as part of a recently approved extension of a light rail system.

These different neighborhood design features have one goal in common: to reduce the need for driving.  Residents of these communities no longer need to spend significant amounts of time bargaining with their buddies on whose turn it is to be designated driver for the evening—everyone can join in the libations without fear, and if that isn’t progress, what is?

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