Suburban Urbanism in Chaska

Hot on the heels of my last post about increasing homogeneity and class segregation in US metro areas, here’s something that’s bucking the trend...

In that interview with Kerry Miller, urban sociologist George Galster described two things that can counter market forces that work to increase the homogeneity of neighborhoods: metro-area income redistribution like Minnesotas LGA program, and zoning requirements that require a diversity of affordability in new housing developments.

How is the Twin Cities doing on this front? Not very well lately, but there are few promising signs. Check out this recent Strib Op-Ed on improving the exurban park system, or this Strib story from a few weeks ago on townhouses in the suburbs… both pieces point towards a recent phenomenon: suburban (or "new") urbanism.

Well, here’s another piece of the puzzle. Here’s an article from last week detailing an effort in Chaska that seeks to implement "traditional neighbrhood design" housing in a new development there. Chaska is a small, but rapidly growing town just South of Shakopee and Chanhassen, and they’ve been on the cutting edge of city government involvement. (A few years ago they even built a city-owned Wi-Fi network.)
Something like the complex was always planned for the center of Clover Ridge. As in other new urbanist projects, the idea is to create a bustling "town center" at the heart of the neighborhood. The site is next to a recently built four-story condo building, near a park-and-ride bus stop and across the street from a brand-new Clover Ridge Elementary School.

Peter Musty of the Charette Center in Minneapolis, who helped design parts of Clover Ridge, said the Marketplace would be the one "block of real urbanism" in the neighborhood that makes it all work.

As a "technique for getting people out and walking," the shops will give residents a gathering spot and a destination.

Some residents can't wait.

Four years ago, Megan Schaack moved with her family from St. Louis Park to Clover Fields, a sub-neighborhood of Clover Ridge where houses sit close together on narrow lots -- a typical new urbanist design. "We like the look of it and the way it's conducive to meeting the neighbors," she said.

I’ve seen a few of the “urban” developments in the suburbs, like the one in Saint Louis Park, the mixed-use Village of Mendota Heights, or the “downtown” in Maple Grove. While the New Yorker in me cringes at these consumerist displays of newness, and the pedestrian in me tires at walking through the endless parking lots the ring Main Street Maple Grove, I still think these ”downtowns” are a good thing, and sorely needed in the sprawling burbs.

That said, inserting a walkable street into a cul-de-sac-laden sprawl after the fact is pretty darn middling, and it pales in comparison to designing a walkable, sensical city in the first place. That’s why it’s nice to see Chaska thinking of these things in advance.

Here’s an exceprt from a different, more wonky piece on the Chaska development that gets to the heart of why it’s a good idea.

In Chaska, Minn., the first phase of a new traditional neighborhood is making significant strides toward creating residences that start affordable and stay that way. One of four neighborhoods within the Clover Ridge development, Clover Field combines a cost-efficient construction technique and uses a land trust organization to retain affordability while allowing homeowners to benefit and profit from their properties' increasing value. In doing so, Clover Ridge starts to deliver on the city of Chaska's vision of being "the best small town in America" by providing a neighborhood filled with a wide variety of housing styles and types -- and just as many price points.

Over thirty percent of the built-out Clover Ridge homes will be “affordable housing,” which is a very good percentage in a new development in the Twin Cities. Plus, the housing density is almost four times what it is in a “typical” suburb, wherever that is. (Actually, as I’ve pointed out before, suburban townhomes are far more popular than most people think.)

The downside to all this “new urbanism” news is how rare it really is that a new development includes a density and diversity in their housing. Sure the Met Council encourages affordable housing, and has a couple programs aimed an increasing affordability in the suburbs. But compared to a real affordability mandate, like the one they have in Montgomery County, MD, the Met Council can’t create real results.

Without some kind of regulation, real estate market forces are too powerful to resist for most cities – and this leads to inevitable inequalties. As George Galster explains, without revenue sharing or affordability requirements, city governments start competing with each other to attract the wealthiest home-buyers.

The Chaska project demonstrates that it’s not that hard to implement housing diversity if the desire (or requirement) is there.


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Anonymous said...

One correction - Chaska is North of Shakopee but South of Chanhassen.

One thing to note is the pushback from the "wealthier" residents in Chaska against the "affordable housing" the neighborhood. Some of the city planning commission meetings were interesting as people who moved there because of the "new urbanist" design came up against those against it who thought it was all fine in Minneapolis but they had moved to Chaska to escape sidewalks, walking, stores, apartments, affordable housing, etc.

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