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New Urbanism in the East Bay Area


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I spent a day travelling all over the Bay Area to visit new TOD, transit village and New Urbanist places. I lucked out, because although I had planned the trip well in advance, the day I was doing this happened to be a "Spare the Air" day when transit was free (saving me about $20 in BART tickets)!

I visited Pleasant Hill which I had read about as being one of the major transit villages. I didn't realize that it is really just "in the making." Right now it mostly consists of this parking lot and several office buildings. I'm guessing the "transit village" will be built on the parking lot.


There is one batch of apartments already built. I was taken in by the cool tones (brown, gray, white) as opposed to the weird colors often used in new urbanism (see my posts on Windsor, Oakland).


The apartments are shady with many mature trees. They must have kept the original trees, a smart move.



I picked up a real estate flyer and learned that apartments are going for $650k for one bedroom. The flyer mentioned the "Manhattan lifestyle" which I found laughable. There is no retail, mixed use, or street life whatsoever in this development. Hopefully that will change when the transit village is completed.


Next stop: Richmond Transit Village.

This one was also under construction. The details can be found here. As usual, the housing has been built but not the retail. The feeling was extremely suburban.



Just outside the neighborhood, the Kaiser Permanente office heralds the jarring transition to the brutalist, sixties car-topia that lies beyond. More on that later.


This park acts as a central green for the development. Even at 2 PM on a Monday, there were people out playing with their kids and some sitting on their porches.



Some features of the development are the direct antithesis of urbanism. For example, it is gated off from the outside world, artificially creating a half-mile walk to this outside apartment complex that is literally across the street.


Just outside the development, the sidewalk ends abruptly in an anti-pedestrian environment.


Low-density government, medical, and other offices and parking garages dominate the landscape.


The only shopping available as of yet is in this conventional shopping strip about a 15 minute walk from the nearest homes.


Richmond Transit Village is a nice place, but I would not say that it in any way deserves to be called urbanism, "new" or otherwise.

Next stop: Hercules.

Hercules has been getting plenty of press for its new urbanist achievements. Just browse a little bit over what Google yields with the search terms "Hercules New Urbanism".

My favorite tidbit about this place is that they used eminent domain to keep out Wal-Mart.

Anyway, Hercules is another example of what really should be called New Suburbanism. It is basically a more aesthetically pleasing suburban subdivision that is far, far away from any transit, retail, or industry.





That is not to say that Hercules is without charm. The architectural quality is top-notch and the mix of styles creates a truly pleasing neighborhood.




Here is the mixed-use main street as it stands now. About half the ground floor spaces are currently vacant with the rest filled by four real estate offices and one acupucture center. A whole lot more of this type of streetscape would be a great thing.




There is also a public library going in - an actual public institution. There are plans to build a stop on the Capitol Corridor Amtrak line which passes within a hundred yards of the mixed-use street. However, this will hopefully be combined with several new bus routes and a smooth connection to BART, because as it stands all this development is over a mile even from the Hercules transit center.


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