There is new movement to plan suburban communities around farms instead of golf courses. Can it catch on?
In Solano, Kelly and his colleague Amie MacPhee created a plan for a clustered rural community that marries innovation with deeply rooted farming patterns. The big idea here is that they’ve retrofitted not buildings but the typical pattern of development: The existing agricultural land is clustered into a 1,400-acre plot, while the rest of the community is preserved open lands, habitat preservation, and a village of 400 homes at the center. A land conservancy, partially funded by a percentage of home sales, would provide a mechanism with which to manage and monitor the land. As MacPhee explains, “Agriculture is an amenity. You can’t just wish for it, you have to support it.”
Redmond’s vision of agriculture-based development is notable not just for the farming itself but for its mention of a secure food supply in the marketing materials. As concerns around food health and safety continue to make their way into national discussions, a community that produces a trusted food source is a community in possession of a meaningful market differentiator.
Alex Steffen, the executive editor of Worldchanging, agrees. “We have to get smarter about suburban taxonomy: Inner-ring suburbs—with relatively dense single-family neighborhoods and semi-auto-dependent cores, within easy transit reach of a central city—are in a completely different position than outer-ring suburbia, with its big houses on large lots, cul-de-sacs, and arterials planning, and long drives to get anywhere. In the inner ring, it’s not that hard to imagine adding lots of infill development and new transportation infrastructure to make livable, fairly walkable, much more sustainable communities.”
But “visions of subdivisions turned nicely into habitat and farms,” Steffen believes, “are delusional.” The outer rings of suburbs, especially those recently built “with funny loans at the far edges of sunbelt cities, are probably just destined to become the ruins of the unsustainable.”
This article first appeared in GOOD Issue 19: The Neighborhoods Issue. You can read more from the issue here, or find out what it's all about by reading the introduction.
Paintings by Carrie Marill, courtesy of Jen Bekman Gallery.