Sitting in Judy Corbett's patio in the Village Homes development, it's hard to understand why there aren't projects like this in every community. Judy's the Executive Director of California's Local Government Commission -- a nonprofit that provides training for local officials and planning commissioners on a range of land use issues, including growth & development.
She and her ex-husband Mike Corbett were responsible for building the 60 acre Village Homes development in Davis, California, back in 1975.
Their two key goals were, as Judy put it, "being sensitive to the environment and meeting peoples' social needs." As Judy explained, "we wanted to provide a community where people would feel safe, and want to spend their leisure time." About 800 people live in Village Homes.
Contrary to today's "new urbanist" principles, streets end in cul-de-sacs. People have plenty of spaces for their cars, but with the short, narrow streets (without sidewalks), extensive green spaces, fruit orchards, community gardens, and delightful landscaping, automobiles don't dominate.
Judy stressed to me that "our focus was to make it easy to walk and bike."
I asked Judy if she and Mike had developed any other housing developments after Village Homes. "No," she replied, "putting together Village Homes involved one headache after another in getting local approvals." In part, that was because of some of the ecologically-oriented practices integral to the development were outside the norm.
In fact, Judy told me that one of the problems still facing ecologically-oriented developments today is that they run afoul of local zoning codes. "General plans may have a vision for the community that's not attainable because zoning codes still contain major barriers." For that reason, the Local Government Commission has been promoting more innovative zoning, such as the use of "form-based" codes.
Judy gave me a simple message to pass along to planning commissioners: "think outside the box." To Judy, part of what that means is promoting alternatives to the typical subdivision. As she put it, "the public hasn't been offered anything else."
p.s., for more information on Village Homes, take a look at their web site. Judy also co-authored a book on Village Homes called, Designing Sustainable Communities -- available through online booksellers.
You can also view a 360 degree panoramic photo I took while at Village Homes. Click this link; you'll then need to run the program to start the viewer.