Mixed use is the new stucco - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Mixed use is the new stucco

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Posted: Sunday, June 11, 2006 7:27 am | Updated: 4:45 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

A few weeks ago, we got wind that some Scottsdale developers had filed plans with Tempe to put up some tall buildings near Arizona State University. I wasn’t sure who the builder was, or how tall the buildings were, but I knew one thing — it would surely be a mixed-use project with a residential component.

Why? Because every major development that’s on the planning boards these days is a mixed-use project with a residential component.

No one seems to be a slave to fashion in quite the same way as developers and builders. Take for example slump block. If you see a building with slump block, it was built between about 1965 and 1975. Those slightly irregularly shaped, brown bricks were everywhere. I guess they shut down the slump block kiln for the Bicentennial and never fired it up again.

A few years later stucco and red tile were rediscovered. In between, there was the transitional period of rough hewn wood. All of which explains why the East Valley looks the way it does.

There are some trends going on right now in the building and development game that could make our communities more livable places.

Suburbia has prospered over the past 60 years. During that period the burbs have drawn the wrath of planners, professors and journalists who describe suburbia as a sea of cookie-cutter homes, faceless regional malls and strip centers and endless traffic jams.

What drove all this? Generally the desire for an affordable, single-family home in a safe neighborhood. Most of us want to own a place with a yard — maybe just a small yard, where the kids could play or we can have a garden.

But just because we wanted a house didn’t necessarily mean we wanted every one to look alike or for our garage to dominate the front of our house, or that we had a desire to get in the car, navigate a six-lane road, find a parking space and walk across an expanse of asphalt to buy a bag of groceries.

In the past few years, developers have taken the usual step of asking consumers what they want in a master planned community.

And what consumers are telling the developers is that they wouldn’t mind seeing some shopping and dining in the middle of their neighborhood instead of the intersection of two major streets.

In fact, they say, they want their neighborhood to be like a small town.

Joel Kotkin, the leading intellectual champion of the suburbs, has come up with a concept that he calls the “New Suburbanism.” Kotkin says that what would work better for a metro region would be a string of villages.

One example of making the village work is using the bones of the downtowns to make an updated village center.

Another example is out in the far West Valley, the community of Verrado. And developers believe they’ve also hooked another winner. Some people who don’t want a yard might not mind living next to or in a retail complex.

Don’t get too excited about the trend of mixed-use projects, said Greg Coxon, senior manager director with CB Richard Ellis in Phoenix.

“There was a time in the ’80s when builders tried to put offices over stores,’’ he said.

But the market wouldn’t support it.

Still, if these trends catch on with the public, they could be with us for awhile.

Like slump block.

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