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"Urban “Villages”
Photo: Paige Foster
The trend in community development is to re-create “village” areas that combine residential, offices, and retail properties. These defined areas aren’t large, but they are smartly designed to invoke the nostalgia of small towns while providing the best elements of today’s community development (think "smart" parking garages that announce the number of available parking spaces, adjusting the number as cars leave or arrive).

Whatever the specific designs, the center of these “city center” or urban village designs feature gathering places such as mini parks with benches, fountains, and artfully planted shrubs and flowers. A mixture of restaurants and retail outlets surround these gathering places. Beyond that ring, one finds parking garages, hotels, and larger stores such as specialty groceries. Apartments, condominiums, and townhouses are located above retail outlets or around the outer ring. Sidewalks are plentiful.

"Villages" Replacing Indoor Malls

With enormous mass market appeal, these “villages” are replacing indoor malls. According to an article in the November 13, 2006, Washington Post, “the number of mixed-use projects of 15 acres or more has been increasing by about 28 percent a year since 1996, according to New Urban News. In 2004, the most recent figure available, 650 projects at various stages of completion existed throughout the country.”

Financial gain drives this trend as the next paragraph in the article makes clear. “Businesses in urban villages generate more revenue than those in traditional shopping centers and strip malls, planners say. Shoppers spend $84 an hour in an urban village’s street-side stores; in a typical enclosed mall, they spend $57.50 an hour, according to the Urban Land Institute. Some large retailers bring in almost 20 percent more revenue per square foot in a village setting.”

And who is spending this amount of money? “. . .weaving together the threads of an old-fashioned main street in a modern setting. Urban villages attract a desirable set of demographics—young professionals in dual-income households as well as empty-nesters and retirees, often with disposable income.”

Some critics point out that it is the restaurants and retail stores that drive these designs—that the gathering places are a means to a profit. Time will tell if these are long-term community centers.

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