Phoenix’s groundbreaking community, Culdesac, offers a fresh take on urban living, ditching cars for walkability. This innovative neighborhood hints at a future where cities prioritize people over vehicles.
In Phoenix, Arizona, often dubbed the least sustainable city due to its vast concrete expansion and desert backdrop, a pioneering community is rewriting the narrative. Culdesac, the first car-free neighborhood constructed from scratch in contemporary America, is flourishing.
This 17-acre development, which once housed a car body shop and dilapidated buildings, is steadily transforming into an emblem of modern American urban planning. Its mission? To reintroduce Americans to the joys of a walkable, human-centric community, a lifestyle that for many is only reminiscent of their college days or overseas travels.
Earlier this year, Culdesac warmly welcomed its first 36 residents. The ultimate plan, slated for completion by 2025, is to host nearly 1,000 individuals across 760 units. These units, spanning two and three stories, stand unique in the current American urban landscape. Not only do they lack parking spaces, but residents are even encouraged to part with their vehicles. In a refreshing blend of convenience and community, residents find amenities such as grocery stores, eateries, yoga studios, and bicycle shops right within their living spaces—defying the standard city zoning laws.
New York City and San Francisco, among others, do boast such walkable neighborhoods, but their exorbitant prices, coupled with resistance to new apartment projects, often place them out of reach for many. Culdesac, with its $170 million budget, is a testament that such paradigms can be replicated. Ryan Johnson, Culdesac’s CEO, exudes the air of a modern tech entrepreneur. While he was integral to the formation of OpenDoor, an online real estate platform, his passion for car-free living was ignited during his stays in countries like Hungary, Japan, and South Africa. Having lived without a car for over a decade, Johnson emphasizes the holistic benefits of walkable neighborhoods.
Architecturally, Culdesac evokes a Mediterranean charm. Its white buildings, accentuated with ochre hues, come together to form cozy courtyards and pedestrian-friendly "paseos". This design not only enhances the aesthetic appeal but also offers much-needed shade in Phoenix's unforgiving climate.
City planner Jeff Speck remarked on Culdesac’s European vibes, noting the remarkable difference in urban experience when cars are excluded. Although a small parking space is provided for visitors, Culdesac aims to make residents' transition to a car-free life as smooth as possible. According to The Guardian, they’ve partnered with ride-sharing services and local transport options. In a special gesture, the first 200 residents also receive complimentary ebikes.
However, this car-free initiative is not just a statement against the pervasive car culture in the U.S. It's also a commitment to addressing climate change, as transportation remains the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the country. Furthermore, Culdesac envisions reweaving the social fabric that seems stretched thin in today’s world.
Despite the challenges and cultural inertia, many believe in the potential of projects like Culdesac. Vanessa Fox, one of its residents, views her car-free life as true freedom. Johnson remains optimistic about expanding the Culdesac blueprint across the nation, seeing it as a solution that many urban dwellers are yearning for. Speck added, "Government officials should ponder: are their cities ready for more Culdesacs?"
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