Urban Living

By Allison Ude

Now that the Westhaven Town Center has begun and businesses are starting to open, we will soon experience some of the most exciting amenities Westhaven—and all true Traditional Neighborhood Developments—will have to offer! One of the things that sets Westhaven apart from master-planned communities in Franklin, such as Fieldstone Farms or McKays Mill, is that it provides the option of living in the town center. In these other subdivisions, uses are separated from one another. In the Westhaven town center, there are residences above the town center buildings and there will be residences on the upper floors of live-work units.

The 5 Minute Walk

Traditional neighborhoods should have a variety of densities to accommodate a variety of lifestyles and socio-economic groups. Density refers to the number of dwellings per acre of land. Typically, denser areas have taller buildings and have a larger portion of the land covered by buildings. The highest densities are located at the center of the neighborhood, usually with a transit stop or a major intersection. Large projects, such as Westhaven, should provide the complete variety of densities.

New Urbanist neighborhood design should give the pedestrian priority. Historically, around the world, people have been willing to walk up to 5 minutes to reach a destination. Most people can walk a quarter of a mile in 5 minutes, so destinations should be within a quarter mile of most homes. Residents should be able to meet many of their daily needs within this 5 minute walk. Any further than a quarter of a mile, and more people start using their cars. However, people are willing to walk further to reach a transit stop; most people will walk 10 minutes to a transit stop. And, ideally, the neighborhood center would have a transit stop that connects to other neighborhood centers.

Places that serve more than one neighborhood—such as a grocery, library, school or theater—can be at the edge of the neighborhood so they can also serve adjacent neighborhoods as well as automobiles just passing through. You can see from this diagram that residents of these four neighborhoods are within walking distance of the commercial and civic places that are shared at the convergence of all four neighborhoods. Neighborhoods are not perfectly circular, but they should be designed with a network of streets in order to help cars and pedestrians move into and around the neighborhood center and public spaces. Sometimes you will find that in conventional suburban development, residential subdivisions are actually close to commercial areas, but the cul-de-sacs, chain link fences, berms and gates of suburbia unnecessarily create long walking distances to get to shopping centers or other destinations that are actually close by.

The 5 minute walk is very important to New Urbanist neighborhood design. It allows people, particularly the elderly, children, or others who can’t drive or don’t own a car to meet their daily needs by walking.

In Westhaven, our town center will be our largest neighborhood center, but there will also be smaller neighborhood centers: the clubhouse, the golf club, another square yet to be built south of Acadia Park, and the school.

Live-Work Units

We often hear about the American dream of home ownership. There is also the American Dream of owning your own business. The building types that are found in more urban areas, such as the Westhaven Town Center, are very conducive to both American dreams. A live-work unit is a building type that is designed to provide retail or office space on the ground floor (for your business) and living space above (for your residence). This makes it possible for an individual to pursue both American dreams while owning one building. These building types are best suited to the more urban areas of the transect (T4, T5 or T6).

Conventional zoning separates buildings by use. In New Urbanist design, however, buildings are zoned by building type or form (This is where the term Form Based Code comes from). So in New Urbanist neighborhoods the way a building looks is regulated so it fits in with its surroundings and the scale of the neighborhood. Through the years, the use of the building can change, but the way it appears on the outside will still contribute positively to the streetscape. A well-designed, traditional town center building can function as office space, residence, or retail.

A live-work unit serves as another residential option in a town center. Within the 5 minute walk of a town center, there should be a variety of housing types, and the live-work is one of those. A variety of housing types within one neighborhood not only makes things visually more exciting, it also adds to the life of the place by attracting people of all ages.  Equally important, it gives people the choice and opportunity to stay in the same neighborhood when they need to move due to a change in income, a change in family composition, the desire to downsize, or the need for additional space.  For example, a young, active couple might want to live above a shop where there’s lots of action. If they have kids, they may want to move away from the town center to a single-family home. Later in life as the family gets bigger, they may want to buy one of the larger homes. Then as they get older, they may decide mowing a big yard is not all it’s cracked up to be, at which point they can move back to a townhome or rowhouse. If there is diversity of housing, they can do all this in one neighborhood: a neighborhood where they’ve made lifelong friends and put down roots.

An urban environment also provides many opportunities for affordable housing. Not only can one frequently accomplish many daily tasks without a car in an urban area, but the compact nature of urban design provides many opportunities to create affordable housing.

The Westhaven town center will be a tremendously positive contribution to our neighborhood, not only because we will be able to meet many of our daily needs without getting in our cars, but also because it provides other housing options and because it will foster even more life and community gathering in Westhaven.

This website is the property of Diane Balciar who is a contracted agent of Kerr & Co Realty and is in no way affiliated with Westhaven Realty or Southern Land Company. Westhaven is the registered trademark owned by Southern Land Company, LLC