Is Martha serious about building New Urbanism?

Martha Stewart and KB Homes are making a big PR push in which they're branding their new Avellino Development as New Urbanism. And the fruits of this push are showing up all over the media (such as here and here).

Martha is known for her fastidious attention to detail, but there are signs that the plans for Avellino need more time in the kitchen before they represent a well-designed, well-connected new urbanist neighborhood. For starters, there isn't much to indicate Avellino is anything beyond an upscale residential community.

A few key questions:
Is there a mix of uses on site? Are there stores, offices, civic buildings and places of worship within walking distance of the residences? Or how about even downstairs from the residential units?
Is there a range of unit types and sizes? (The press release mentions single-family homes and townhouses, a range which could be broadened to include multi-unit buildings, live-work units and garage or alley apartments.)

And renderings of homes at Avellino, retrieved by members in the salons at CNU.org, show front-loaded garages that will make Avellino sidewalks not particularly inviting to parents in strollers and other pedestrians. Alleys would create a more rewarding public realm.


Link courtesy of Orlando Sentinel

Martha and her partners should study the Charter of the New Urbanism and work to get this development right. If not, it shouldn't be called New Urbanism.

Comments

Closish but no cigar

I was intrigued by the announcement of Martha's venture into New Urbanism, but was left a bit disappointed after doing some homework.

Don't get me wrong--community gardens, a pool, and walkability are features that aren't seen in most blah suburban housing tracts, but what about commercial opportunities in the neighborhood? Where's the mixed-use, Martha? I read that there is easy access to highways, but what about transit? The 31 acres to 143 homes math is a bit vague as well--we don't know much about exactly how that land will be appropriated. From what I gather, residences would still sport gaudy garage doors visible from the street, a universal motif throughout suburbia.

We need more information documented to boast NU status on this latest development.


Photo Courtesy of Orlando Sentinel

Welcome to Curb Cut City

Walking on those streets won't be too pleasant with all those front-loaded garages. I wish there were a site plan available to see if any of the garages load onto alleys, as is typical at most new urbanist TNDS.

norabeck's picture

Is Martha making progress?

Comparing the recent Avellino Development with these earlier houses in Cary, North Carolina reveals some movement toward New Urbanism by Stewart and KB Homes. Slowly but surely?


Lily Pond

This design draws its inspiration from Martha’s beach cottage on the eastern shore of Long Island. The exterior features such touches as a gambrel roof, cedar shake-style shingling, decorative molding and colorful trim. Inside, there’s a columned living room and built-in book shelves and window seats.


Katonah

Martha's two suburban New York homes in Katonah, New York and Westport, Connecticut provide the style points for this model. The colonial design sports front pillars, Palladian and oval windows and clapboard siding and the interior headboard molding.


Skylands

Skylands takes its cues from Martha’s summer place on the rocky coast of Maine, a 1925 pink-granite, 12-bedroom cottage in Seal Harbor. The outside blends stone walls and clapboard siding, and features a pillared porch and craftsman-style windows. The interior includes an oversized dining area and stone wall fireplace.

Photos and descriptions courtesy of CNNMoney.com and KB Homes

McMarthaism

Yes, the earlier models are clearly in the McMansion mode and the new ones are more like McUrbanism.
Looks like CNU needs to get an audience with the KB Homes folks. Avellino would benefit from true charrette!

Thanks for the photos.

paytonc's picture

Those look familiar

I always forget to take photos of this, but it's just a mile from my mom's office. This must mean that the Martha houses, too, are right under the approaches to RDU airport -- an example of poor planning at the regional scale, not to mention the neighborhood and block scale!

Common understanding of and marketing "New Urbanism"

Folks active in CNU appear to hold the term "New Urbanism" rather sacred, understandably since so much work has been done to date by CNU and others to define its meaning and context. With a common understanding, discussion moves forward. But I would venture that the vast majority of the North American populace presently do not know or understand the term.

However, Martha Stewart's use of the term is a sign of the impact CNU's members are making in public discussion of New Urbanism. More commercial use is sure to arrive soon.

According to the US Patent and Trademark Office, CNU held a trademark on "Congress for the New Urbanism", but abandoned it December 29, 2006, I'm sure for good reason, http://tess2.uspto.gov/bin/gate.exe?f=searchss&state=q6deuh.1.1 There appear to be no other applicable trademarks.

So a relevant question is - Do you think it is wisest to use the bully pulpit of public communication to educate and pressure others to adhere to the desired meaning, to protect the term from commercial misappropriation through intellectual property rights, to combine the two, or to let the public understanding of the term morph over time?

paytonc's picture

thanks for the update

We'll look into re-registering "Congress for the New Urbanism" ASAP, but we have never held a trademark on the term "New Urbanism" -- which is what Martha is using. By the time we sought to register that term as a trademark, it was considered too far gone into the public domain to be registered.

Spreading the right definition of New Urbanism

As more New Urbanist developments set high marks in their communities for character, livability and value, mainstream developers notice and want in on the action. These developers tend to blend what they know -- conventional subdivisions -- with what they're trying to emulate -- New Urbanism. The fact that New Urbanism is invoked in marketing these hybrid developments is a real concern, and, sure, it gets under the skin of those who work hard to live up to the definition as established in the Charter.

Although we spend a lot of time at CNU offices helping reporters (and their readers) understand whether announced projects will really materialize with a diverse mix of uses and building types and a connected network of streets and blocks, we can't be everywhere. Some believe that only a formal project certification process will settle the matter decisively. While such a system (LEED) works for green buildings and CNU has, in fact, joined with LEED in creating standards for sustainable urban neighborhoods, there's also some resistance to the idea that the design and development of good urbanism can be reduced to a checklist. Laurence Aurbach has done some fine work towards developing a nuanced system for evaluating projects that may help overcome these fears.

A recently suggested twist on the bully pulpit approach is to have members use detailed project profiles on this website (complete with high-resolution site plans) to create Zagat-style ratings of existing projects. These ratings wouldn't be official but they'd certainly help observers figure out whether a project is held in high or low esteem by CNU members.

So for the moment, public education and pressure remain the best tools at the moment but other tools remain under consideration. We'd be interested in hearing more of your thoughts, David.

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