Students explore New Urbanism

Vincent Staupe

Four University students toured the new Emerald Gardens condominium complex Sunday in St. Paul. They weren’t looking to purchase property, but rather to discuss the urban plan behind the development.

Students for New Urbanism, a group dedicated to educating the public about the new urbanism movement, organized the tour.

“It’s a movement that creates great urban spaces,” said group member Mike Janicki, an architecture and urban studies senior. “It’s a reaction to suburban sprawl.”

Besides the condos, the development, just inside St. Paul along University Avenue, includes Metro Lofts and an apartment building.

The development qualifies as new urbanism in its design because of its mixed use of retail and residential spaces as well as its connection to the surrounding neighborhoods, according to architect Pete Keely. He said Emerald Gardens and the surrounding development resemble the traditional layout of urban centers before the age of suburban sprawl.

“It’s to get as much density as possible within the city codes,” Keely said, adding that modern conveniences such as underground parking and retail spaces provide a new twist to an old idea.

The complex includes some of the densest housing outside of the downtown areas, said Tanya Bell, the acquisitions and development director of Wellington Management, Inc, which developed the site.

“I really think that this is an example of new urbanism,” Bell said. “It’s diverse in its market-driven pricing and how it aesthetically appeals to a diverse group of buyers.”

Developments like Emerald Gardens will help compel former city dwellers now living in the suburbs to return to a more urban lifestyle, said psychology senior and group member Curt Trisko.

“This is unique because it’s good to see reinvestment into an area already urban,” he said. “New urbanism is a philosophy more than anything, to combat alienation and isolation” that can be found in suburban developments.

New urbanism also provides a good structure for integrating residents of different socio-economic backgrounds, perhaps by placing affordable housing units in the development itself, Janicki said.

“New urbanism integrates people living on mixed incomes,” he said.

Although Janicki said some critics of new urbanism claim its nothing more than “slapping a front porch on a unit,” the movement is more about the reasons behind the planning.

“New urbanism says let’s plan this out logically,” he said. “It’s not just the front porch; it’s the reasoning behind it.”

And while the students admit the novelty of new urbanism developments tends to drive up the market price, they said additional developments can counteract that effect.

“Our group also wants to convince developers to take the risk of building in this style,” Trisko said.

The students said they hope to enlighten the general public about the benefits of new urbanism at a panel discussion scheduled for Dec. 8.

“It’s to try and make the consumer more sophisticated so they’d want to live in places like Emerald Gardens,” Trisko said.