The developers of Evans Farm admit they're learning on the fly as they build the first neighborhood in Delaware County based on the tenets of New Urbanism.
Earlier this week, they invited the public to get in on the educational process by bringing three experts on the design movement to speak in Orange Township.
Tony Eyerman and Daniel Griffin, partners in Evans Farm Land Development Co., plan to bring about 950 single-family houses, multifamily buildings and commercial districts to about 550 acres off Lewis Center Road in the township. The pair are planning a similar mixed-use, walkable neighborhood just north of the site on 700 acres in Berlin Township.
Griffin said last week work on sewer infrastructure is underway at the Orange Township portion of the site, with additional road and utility work to follow. He said construction on residences could begin in the summer.
As work continues, Griffin said enthusiasm and questions about the project and its roots in the New Urbanism movement have been growing.
"Everybody's talking about it. Everybody wants to live there," he said. "Everybody's saying, 'I need to learn more about it.' "
Evans Farm Land Development Co. hosted a public seminar March 13 featuring with three experts in New Urbanism: Robert J. Gibbs, an author and urban retail planner; Monica V. Johnson, president of sales and marketing firm New Urban Connections; and Michael Watkins, architect and town planner.
Watkins said New Urbanism borrows heavily from older, pedestrian-friendly communities with a mix of businesses and housing types.
"It's nothing we invented," he said. "We simply observed what has worked well in the past."
Watkins said the movement serves as a reaction to sprawl -- less-dense neighborhoods built further and further away from city centers.
Watkins said suburban-sprawl communities are marked by reliance on automobiles and housing types that cater to homogenous populations.
"Unfortunately, with sprawl we often segregate people by income level," he said.
Watkins said communities based on New Urbanism, which often include apartments and townhomes, feature more opportunities for people of different ages and income levels to live and work side by side.
Gibbs said as developers work to replicate traditional downtowns in communities based on New Urbanism, it opens up new opportunities for retailers.
"People like to shop in walkable downtowns and the malls are dying," he said.
Gibbs said cities seeking to revitalize their downtowns or developers seeking to create new ones need to attract and retain anchors such as grocery stores, libraries and other amenities that keep residents coming back.
"Anchors are very important," he said.
Gibbs said about half of the home-buying population wants to live within walking distance of restaurants and retailers. He said the population, which includes all age groups, is being underserved by builders and developers.
Along with retail destinations, Johnson said neighborhoods based on New Urbanism need amphitheaters, parks or other places to house public events.
"Traditional neighborhoods do have gathering spots," she said.
Johnson said the neighborhoods are marked by their walkability.
"The cars become secondary to the pedestrians and the homes in which they live," she said.
All three experts noted multifamily housing options are key to communities based on New Urbanism, which can lead to pushback from local officials and residents.
Griffin said Evans Farm's status as the first neighborhood based on New Urbanism in Delaware County makes education important -- not just for the public, but for builders, government officials and even the developers themselves.
"We'd all love to say we've done this before, but this is incredibly different," he said.