Return of the greenfield TND?
Traditional neighborhood developments (TNDs) on greenfield sites, a key part of the New Urbanism 10 to 20 years ago, have had a tough time in recent years. Some have survived and continue to build out, some have gone through foreclosure and bankruptcy, but few new ones have been proposed in recent years.
Real estate analyst Christopher Leinberger contends that greenfield TNDs will not be a big part of the urban real estate revival going forward because of the high levels of investment and risks required to create an urban place from scratch.
On the other hand, new single-family housing is demanded in walkable neighborhoods — a demand that is hard to meet through infill development alone. The three projects — in Richardson and Fort Worth, Texas, and Clovis, New Mexico — profiled in the accompanying article are all new, greenfield developments on the scale of a neighborhood or several neighborhoods.
When developers build such projects they will most likely have to confront issues that were not dealt with in TNDs prior to the housing crash. One is minimizing investment and risk — and that probably means more efficient layouts built in smaller increments. The Saddlewood plan by Vialta Group is a good example. It’s basically a simple grid, with straight geometries. Placemaking is achieved through squares and the development can be phased in replicable modules that can be financed and built with minimal infrastructure investment. The plan takes maximum advantage of the site to create developable parcels — much like the urban street grids of old. Even the frontages on the primary thoroughfares bordering the site are developable.
Another issue is external connectivity, a trait that was not often achieved in the pre-crash TNDs (which mostly have excellent internal, but not external, connectivity). The Saddlewood plan is highly connected.
Sometimes to achieve that external connectivity, highways going through or adjacent to TNDs will have to be tamed. The Trinity Lakes project addresses that issue by using TIF (tax-increment financing) funds to rebuild a suburban highway as a boulevard, connecting the development to the outside world.
Linking greenfield new urban projects to rapid transit, like Trinity Lakes and the Bush Central TOD, will also make neighborhood-scale new urban developments more financially viable.