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Monday, April 28, 2008

Big Box - New Urbanism Style

Big box stores. You know, the large, free-standing, rectangular, generally single-floor structures built on a concrete slab. Many people hate these massive conglomerations of retail space and others love them. The formula has been standard for quite some time now. Build the box by a large freeway or shopping district and put 20 acres of parking around it. People will drive to the store. This formula is about to change. I doubt that big box stores are going away, but the way they do business will change. The last frontier for big box stores who have already conquered the suburbs and rural areas are city centers. Walmart, target, borders, home depot, and many others have redesigned their stores and strategy to meet this new market. These new retail locations blend in more with the urban environment and are almost always more than one story. They have trimmed down a bit too. Instead of the gigantic 200,000 sq. foot stores you will find medium box size stores from 60,000 to 100,000 sq feet. The storefronts are near the sidewalk and the parking is either underneath or in back.

While these stores can suit city centers, they can also serve new urbanism neighborhoods and communities. Companies who traditionally use big box stores realize that they need to change the architecture of their stores to match the surrounding community. This realization has come from numerous attempts of these companies trying to locate their stores in these communities only to get shot down by local residents. Walmart wanted to put a box in Kentlands, but the residents would not stand for it. Usually stores like Walmart would just go to a nearby plot of land or outside location to open the store and enjoy the same customer base. In my opinion, Walmart is already employing this activity with two of their stores being built within a short driving distance of Daybreak. However, Kennecott has a strangle hold on all of the land on the West Bench. It will be up to them if they want a Walmart on their land. If big box stores want in on future developments on the West side of Salt Lake County they will have to play by Kennecott's rules. Now if we can only get Kennecott to stick to their guns.

Big box stores have already been mentioned by Kennecott in their plans for Daybreak. From what I understand these stores will be located in the main town center and not in the village centers. When these new stores are built what will they look like? Big box retailers have already opened alternative designs in other cities across the US. I have included a few pictures in this post that I have found on the web. Many of these stores, in addition to the structural features already mentioned, will have apartment lofts above the main store front. This will further the mixed-use tradition of new urban communities. The overall design of many of these stores can make them as aesthetically pleasing as their previous stores are ugly. Well, maybe not that pleasing, but close. New Urban News did a piece on how big box stores can blend in to a new urban community. They found that it can be done by wrapping the outside of the box with new urban structures. This has been done in Belmar Colorado by Continuum Partners.

The idea is to simply hide the gray wall exterior of the big box stores by surrounding them with buildings that are architecturally appealing. These can be mom & pop shops, restaurants, town homes and condos, etc. There are difficult problems to over come with logistics, code, and space utilization, but these "wrapper buildings" stand on their own economically. People want them and developers rent or sell them at a profit. The buildings are so small that they can usually only facilitate mom & pop stores instead of national chain stores.

In an earlier post I urged you to buy local and not shop at big box stores. I stand by this. If you have a local independent merchant support them first. However, big box stores are not going to go away. The efficiency with which they operate delivers the prices that customers want. The market will force them to adapt, but they will still be here for years to come. If they are going to be a part of our community, then they had better fit in with the community.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Is Daybreak Crimogenic?

A few days ago I read about a supposed stranger that approached a young girl in Daybreak and threatened her with a knife. The apparent intention of the stranger was to get her to drink something. This story was later proven false as the girl was lying, but it peaked my interest about crime in Daybreak. I wrote an article earlier about crime in Daybreak that compared statistics with my old neighborhood, but this article only touched base with a debate that has been raging for years about new urbanism and crime.

A theory of community design called Defensible Space seems to be the clashing point of this debate. This theory was thrust into the mainstream in 1972 by Oscar Newman with his book, "Defensible Space: - Crime Prevention through Urban Design." The four main principles of this theory are:

  • Territoriality - The differentiation between public and private space
    • Owners, or those who take ownership of a given space, have a vested interest and are more likely to challenge intruders or report them to the police.
    • The sense of owned space creates an environment where "strangers" or "intruders" stand out and are more easily identified.
  • Natural surveillance - the link between an area's physical characteristics and the residents' ability to see what is happening
  • Image - the capacity of the physical design to impart a sense of security also known as the broken window effect. The community must look well-maintained with no signs of criminal mischief.
  • Milieu and Access - Features that may affect security, such as proximity to a police substation or busy commercial area

In the related literature you can find many instances where authors suppose that the principles of Defensible Space are at total odds with New Urban Design. The table below illustrates this proposition:

In fact, supporters of this line of thinking believe new urbanism to be crimogenic. However, new urbanist designs have taken the concepts of defensive space to heart in their designs. Most literature that contrasts this point does not understand new urbanism or does not understand defensible space concepts. Possibly both. In reality, new urbanism creates harmonious communities that combine private spaces with active, well-observed, well-connected streets and other public spaces. Streets, squares and plazas are compact and lined with buildings whose many doors and windows help occupants to provide ongoing natural surveillance.

Daybreak has only a few problems from a defensible space standpoint. The walking tunnel that goes under the main road to Daybreak could be a problem. While homes do face this tunnel there are many spots that are obscured from public view. I would not recommend kids hanging around this tunnel. Another problem area is the alleyways that are used as access routes to vehicle storage. For the most part the second story buildings that are so prevalent in Daybreak neighborhoods help in this matter. The windows on the second floor can usually see over fences into the alley. The garage apartments also help in this area. The biggest worry, from a defensible space standpoint, is actually in Eastlake where new construction provides ample areas for theft and vandalism.

Overall, about 95% of the Daybreak development adheres to the concepts of defensible space. Daybreak residents are territorial in that we care about the community and what happens in it. There are clear lines between public and private space. Being able to distinguish a stranger at Oquirrh Lake may be a challenge since it is public space, but this same problem is applicable to any public space: churches, schools, playgrounds. These features can be found in just about any neighborhood in Utah.

Natural surveillance is the category in which Daybreak truly excels along with any new urbanist community. Our houses are close to the street and we have many eyes on the street. Image, well does Daybreak look unsafe? Does it seem like a place where criminal activity can thrive? That idea is laughable. As far as access, yes Daybreak is a mixed use development with a grid-like system of roads, but even Oscar Newman himself did not think that this was a particularly bad thing, especially where cars are made to go so slow. Finally, Daybreak does have a police substation in the community center. This proximity as part of the design speaks well for the planners of Daybreak.

Unfortunately, you cannot "design" out crime from a society. Design can only take you so far. While new urbanism seeks for people to know each other and be more active, it cannot prevent disagreements between people in a community. People are people no matter what neighborhood you are in and they will have disagreements. That is why Daybreak has experienced some crime as of late. For details you can look at the map on This website is extremely handy to assess crime in any neighborhood. My prediction? Daybreak will remain a low-crime neighborhood because of new urbanism not despite it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Walk This Way - Daybreak Walkability

I love to walk. I walk for exercise, for peace of mind, for a change of scenery, to really "see" my neighborhood, and finally to actually get somewhere. I get to know my neighbors and my community much better if I walk around instead of driving. But is walking easy and convenient in Daybreak? The numerous trails and sidewalks provide miles and miles of walking paths, but to actually be walkable a community must have certain elements that promote and encourage residents to get out of their cars and use their sneakers. For this reason, one of the main features that is essential to a traditionally designed neighborhood is walkability.

I have found that most people carry a subjective opinion as to what they consider walkable. People who live in a highly urbanized city may consider a location walkable only if it is within a few blocks. On the other hand, I have met some athletic individuals who consider a walkable distance to be anything under five miles. Generally defined, walkability is the availability of most necessities (food, gas, school, etc.) within a comfortable walking distance of a home. A neighborhood is considered walkable if about 90% of the homes in the neighborhood are within a five to ten minute walk of the afore mentioned necessities. In terms of distance, most of these necessities should be located within a half mile. This distance requires pedestrians to walk at a speed of 3 miles per hour which is generally considered a comfortable pace for the majority of the population.

With these objective constraints in mind how walkable is Daybreak? Daybreak, for the most part, cannot be considered a walkable community at the moment. Sure you can get to school and the community center, but to get the basic every-day necessities you would have to walk well over a half mile using streets that are not necessarily pedestrian friendly. This measure will predictably change when the new Village Center is in place and functioning. The center will supposedly offer most everyday goods and services consumed by the average resident. Most Daybreak residents live within a half mile of where the center will be built and the streets leading to the center are pedestrian friendly.

The largest piece of the walkability puzzle that is missing is being able to walk to work. In most cases, I doubt that local residents who support themselves and their families will be able to earn a high enough wage working in retail to live in Daybreak. Possibly Kennecott employees, teachers and administrators from the local schools, and maybe a few others will be able to walk to work, but most people will drive. Creating a green field new urban development can be difficult, but the future bodes well for walkability. The future Daybreak Urban Center will be a place that can attract the type of jobs that Daybreak residents are likely to have. Bottom line: walkability is minimal at this point, but will increase substantially in the future.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Utah New Urbanism

While Daybreak has been at the forefront of new urban development in the Salt Lake Valley, Daybreak is not the only community to attempt a traditional neighborhood design in Utah. Tooele, Farmington, Cedar City and St. George now have new urban communities in the works. These communities may have been proposed already at that time, but I am fairly certain that the developers were watching Daybreak's progress intently.

Heritage at Cedar City is a fairly ambitious master-planned community that will boast amenities similar to Daybreak's including trails, green space, and a community center. An interesting amenity of this community that I have not seen in other new urban communities are horse stables. Apparently there will be equestrian activities for residents to enjoy in this new community. The Heritage is part of a larger plan called Goodboro. This community will be built five minutes west of Cedar City on land that is fairly desolate. I know the man that sold them this land and believe me they payed a pretty penny for it. They will place around 4000 units on this property with an average density of 10 units per acre - definitely dense for this area of Utah. Much like Daybreak, Goodboro will take a long time to finish. The developers estimate that the community will be built out in about 11 years.

Another proposed development in Southern Utah is the Elim Valley community. This supposedly new urban community will be built on the current airport in St. George after the new airport has been built in a different location. Right now it is just in the planning phase and they will not even break ground on the development until 2011. They do have a map of the proposed layout of the community. Again, the development is no where near the scope of Daybreak, but then no one owns so much land near a city like Kennecott. The real draw to this community is the surroundings. With a beautiful desert lake, national parks, green forests, and many other recreational opportunities just minutes away, this community will be able to attract residents easily.

In Davis County a small traditional neighborhood has emerged called The Preserve at Farmington Greens. The Preserve is relatively small with only 140 lots on 90 acres near land designated as wetlands by the US Army Corps of Engineers. This small community displays many new urbanistic features, but as it is so small cannot achieve the scale of amenities or degree of new urbanism that Daybreak can. I have yet to visit this community, but I hear that it is quite nice and a little cheaper than Daybreak. Nice option if you want to live in Davis County.

The final new urban community in Utah (that I am aware of) is Overlake in Tooele. While this community claims to be representative of new urbanism, it has fallen far short of the mark. The craftsmanship of the homes leaves something to be desired. The materials being used are not sustainable and the architecture is is horrible. Almost all of the homes/townhomes are the same beige color and the grass is weed ridden. To Overlake's credit many of the features of new urbanism are present: front porches, walkable distances to parks/greenspace, alleyways etc. This community is in its infancy, but it is definitely not off to a good start. Actually, I felt sorry for a lot of the homeowners at Overlake. I visited the community today after visiting a friend in town and found that many of the homes have lost their roof shingles or vinyl siding in the gusting winds that were blowing through the area. Hopefully the developers will deliver on their promise of new urbanism, but they will definitely have to do better in their second phase.

Smart growth in Utah is off to a decent start with Daybreak and plans for other communities that are being drawn up, but new urban communities are not easily built. One of the biggest hurdles is actually making mixed use communities legal. Financing such a development is risky and marketing it to people who are used to suburbia and McMansions? A difficult endeavor to say the least. Kudos to those who take on risk to develop smart growth communities and to those who decide to live in a sustainable environment.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Daybreak Architecture - American Foursquare

"I love the architecture." - This is one of the most cited reasons that visitors proclaim when they are asked what they like about Daybreak. This answer is sensible considering that Daybreak homes are nothing like homes being built in the rest of Salt Lake Valley. The cookie-cutter stucco wonders have been prolific, riding the wave of the Utah housing boom. Most of these homes vary only slightly in color, style, and placement. Essentially they have almost become a homogeneous commodity that is predictably priced by two factors: size and location. Homes that do not fall into this category tend to be much older. These homes reside on the east side of Salt Lake City and Sugarhouse and were models from which Daybreak was inspired. Kennecott has calculated this factor and promoted it in a mass of billboards, radio ads, and other media. Home buyers have definitely responded by purchasing over 1200 homes in Daybreak in the last few years.

While many people admire the architecture of Daybreak, many visitors (even some homeowners) cannot identify the style
of architecture of the homes that they adore so much. In this and many following posts I will analyze the architecture that makes Daybreak a unique community.

The style of home that seems to appear the most in advertisements and on most streets, (especially in Founders Village) is the American Foursquare (AF). This style is one of the few styles that can be considered distinctive American architecture. While this style comes in many varieties and can have a gamut of features, all AFs share a list of common features:

  • Square box shape
  • Symmetrical placement of windows and other features
  • 2 ½ Stories with a full basement
  • Centered dormer on top
  • Full width porch with simple columns
  • Low, pyramidal hipped roof

The AF was the antithesis and reaction to the extremely ornate Victorian homes and other revival styles popular in the late 1800s. The AF style started to gain traction in the mid 1890s and lasted until the 1930s. The design exploits every square foot of space and can be built efficiently as many of the materials can be measured to a uniform length. The elements of the AF were so easy to create that entire AF homes could be ordered from a Sears Roebuck catalog. The materials were turned out (in numbered pieces) and shipped to the home site where they were easily assembled. These features and the fact that the AF fit well on narrow land lots fared well with the American middle-class budget.

As with any home style features were borrowed from styles that were popular in the past. Craftsman, Prairie, and Greek Revival elements can all be identified in the basic AF style. AF houses were built using a variety of materials including brick, rock, and wood. Using these materials, AF houses were built to last and they did; few cities and towns across the nation lack at least a few good examples of AF houses. If you walk down the streets in Salt Lake City, especially in Sugarhouse, you can see many old, fine examples from the original era. This distinctive architectural style definitely belongs in Daybreak. Maybe now you will hear someone use the term American Foursquare instead of “the big yellow box on the corner.”

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Daybreak Home Sales Slump

The latest home sale stats for Daybreak indicate that the community has more than a year's worth of inventory. In fact, according to the Wasatch Front MLS and Corie Seymour, there are 49 houses currently on the market in Daybreak. That number does not even include new construction in Eastlake or the condos in Founders. While 34 homes were closed (sold) in the first three months of this year, these sales could represent deals made as far back as 6 months. A better indicator is the number of homes put under contract since the beginning of the year. This number is a dismal 12 homes. Can you say buyer's market?

On the new home construction front, Daybreak homebuilders are trying to weather the storm offering incentives that have been promoted by the Smart Buy program. Considering the current state of the market some home builders seem to be doing well, while others have had contracts canceled and are looking to unload inventory quickly. People buying right now definitely have negotiating power with the homebuilders.

I for one sincerely hope that the home builders will be able to sell more homes in the coming months. I imagine that Kennecott Land needs to sell more plots to the homebuilders to maintain cash flow for the company. However, as altruistic as Rio Tinto (owner of Kennecott Land) may seem, they need to be able to produce a profit. I think they will in the long term if they stick with their current plan. However, if for some reason a decision maker decides to take a short-term perspective on things, then the plan that is Daybreak will likely not be realized.

Rio Tinto could have easily sold off Kennecott owned land in chunks to cookie-cutter developers and industrial companies, but Rio Tinto has a sustainability philosophy that pushed the idea of Daybreak forward. In the news today you might have seen that Suncrest, a developer in Draper, filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy. In this case homeowners like that the development will be sold to another developer. Their community has already realized its purpose. The Daybreak community, on the other hand, is the spark of development that will light the entire West side of Salt Lake County with sustainable development. In my opinion Utah needs sustainable development. All we can do is wait and see...

Friday, April 11, 2008

Buy Now in Daybreak?

Many potential Daybreak home buyers are sitting out on the sidelines waiting to see what happens to the housing market. Will prices fall? Probably. If the home you are looking to buy is over 300,000, then you might consider waiting a little longer. The market for homes in that range is definitely trending downward. However, if the home you are looking to buy is under 260,000, then I suggest that you move forward and purchase your Daybreak abode soon. Now is the time to buy for three main reasons. First, many of the home builders are offering incentives that will definitely give you a boost in your purchase. Some home builders give 10,000 to put toward closing costs, upgrades, or to cut down the selling price of the home. An agent I know from one home builder said they would finish the basement of the home for free in addition to incentives already put in place. Another reason is that the market for homes around the 260,000 range and below will stay strong because people can afford these homes, especially the condos. That is the one area of the market that is not suffering right now. The third and final reason is the most compelling.

An article in TIME magazine aptly titled "Ignore the Headlines" illustrated this reason well. Essentially you could buy now at a possibly higher price, but get a lower interest rate. The alternative is to buy later when the price is down, but the interest rates have gone back up. More than likely you will be paying the same monthly payment.

"The thing that will make home prices stop falling is the very same thing that will push mortgage rates higher," says Jim Svinth, chief economist at mortgage firm Lending Tree. So anything you gain by a further drop in prices might be offset by rising financing costs."
Another trend that suggest interests rates will go up is inflation. Oil prices are at record levels which drives up the cost of just about anything that has to be transported (food, goods, building materials). Food prices in particular are rising at a rate which has prompted several news stations to monitor a "basket of goods" to report rates of local inflation. When inflation goes up interest rates go up. Click on the graphic on the left for a graphic comparison of buying now or buying later. With inflation rising and a possible economic recovery home loans will definitely get more expensive.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Daybreak Apartments?

On March 25th, a notice from the City of South Jordan was distributed to Daybreak residents in close proximity to the proposed Daybreak Apartment Venture #1. This has created some controversy as many residents do not remember hearing anything about apartments in any of the literature or meetings that Kennecott Land or the HOA has sponsored. When many people envisioned Daybreak they saw some high-density housing like condos, but not apartments. However, I am sure that Peter Calthorpe, the man behind the design of Daybreak, envisioned apartments being integrated into the town and urban centers of Daybreak. The reason? New urbanism provides housing such that younger and older, singles and families, the poorer and the wealthier can find places to live. As I have mentioned before, affordability has been a problem in almost all new urban communities. One way to solve this problem is to provide small affordable apartments.

While apartments should be a part of any new urban community, they can have a detrimental effect if applied incorrectly. First, the apartments need to be located in town centers close to shops (possibly above them). Secondly, the apartments must be aesthetically pleasing. Numerous new urban communities have accomplished this by successfully integrating the design into the town center without stand-alone complexes that have big parking lots. Finally, dedicated apartments should not be located outside of town centers in large numbers. The occasional rental house or studio above the garage is ok, but if a large amount of rental properties or apartments are located outside of the town center the community suffers as transient families dominate the community. I would be extremely interested to see the plans of these new apartments to see how Kennecott Land wants to incorporate them.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Californication in Utah

When some people hear the word californication they either think of a song by a popular band or about a new show on TV. This term means something completely different in the intermountain region. It means the influx of domestic population migration from California to other western states such as Idaho, Nevada, Colorado, Arizona and yes Utah. This population flow has had distinct effects on demographics and society in these states. Whether these effects are good or bad seems to be the main dispute.

When asked why they moved from California the majority have stated that their home state is too congested, polluted and crime ridden. Taxes are high and the housing is expensive. The average cost for a home in California is $430,370, well above the average sales price in Salt Lake City which is hovering around $230,000. This difference accounts the reason why Utah receives equity refugees from California each year.

What is the net effect of in migration from California? One of the most visible is the political climate. Many political gurus agree that Rocky Anderson would not have been elected mayor of Salt Lake City twice. Rocky Anderson readily admits to their influence in the election. Californians can also afford what we consider expensive houses. Houses in Daybreak. In fact, many of the owners of the most expensive homes are from California. Because demand of these houses have increased the price has correspondingly increased. Measuring the actual net effect of Californication on the local real estate market as a whole cannot be done with complete accuracy, but the effect is generally acknowledged.

The steady stream of middle to upper-class leaving California has reeked havoc on the state's tax base. While California has the most residents of any other state a 12 billion dollar shortfall in taxes is nothing to balk at. The lower class are also leaving California is well. The Economist indicates in its article Dreams of Californication that these workers were lured from the state with the promise of jobs in the construction booms that were going on in Nevada, Arizona, and Utah. The article further explains that this population contains the most dreaded export of California: Gangs. Almost all of the well-known gangs in the Salt Lake City area have ties to California. Even if the connection is not clear it is fabricated by many of the members. Most of this effect is absorbed by Salt Lake City and West Valley. If you drive along 13th south under I-15 headed West you will start to the notice the graffiti that marks territory. In many instances Californians have brought with them many of the things that they moved from California to get away from. However, Utah has not seen the net inmigration of the magnitude that has been witnessed in Arizona and Nevade. Population growth estimates indicate that 88% of the increase is due to natural increase further dissipating the effect of the inmigration.

In my opinion the net effect of Californication on Daybreak has not been negative. Without a doubt they have contributed to home sales in Daybreak and therefore promoted its success. This in a state where some residents seem hesitant to embrace the New Urbanism concept. They have also brought diversity to the Daybreak community. I personally welcome this even though I am part of the majority. Daybreak has definitely not seen an increase in crime or traffic. Hopefully these positive effects will continue and the negative effects in Salt Lake City will be lessened in the coming years. I'm hopeful.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Daybreak Energy Star = Money & Green

If you live in Daybreak take a moment and look at some of your appliances. See that little blue energy star logo? That little logo equals green. All homes that have been built in Daybreak are energy star qualified. Most home owners look at this as a bonus, but don't really see the whole picture. Obviously it saves you money on your utility bills, but energy star qualified homes can do much more than that. For starters, did you know that you can apply for an energy-efficient mortgage? FHA energy-efficient mortgages allow lenders to add the additional cost of energy efficiency improvements to an already approved mortgage loan (as long as the additional costs do not exceed $4000 or 5% of the value of the home, up to a maximum of $8000, whichever is greater). This won't help you qualify for a loan, but may help you put some of those nice upgrades that you want with no additional down payment.

Being able to advertise that your home is energy-star qualified also makes your home more competitive in the market, especially a buyer's market. The trend is catching on too. The EPA predicts that over two million homes will be constructed to energy star standards before 2010. Not bad when you calculate that each home will save up to 30% on utility bills and use that much less energy. Multiply those two figures together with the average utility bill and you get millions of dollars saved. Maybe less fossil fuel power plants as well. Considering that the energy that homes use account for 20% of carbon dioxide emissions, this is a big step in the right direction. In fact, the energy you use at home pollutes the environment more than your car.

But how does a home become energy star qualified? When I first noticed the energy star designation I thought a few windows, some good insulation, efficient appliances - that's good. I thought that the builder just used certain materials for construction, but there is a little more to it than that. When Gold Medallion Homes builds a row house in Daybreak an independent inspector comes by and inspects the work. This inspector conducts on site testing and inspections to verify the energy efficiency measures, as well as insulation, air tightness, and duct sealing details. They point an infrared camera at a window to see how well it is insulating among other things. The home builders know that they will be inspected so they have to make sure the work is quality or it will not get certified, but builders benefit too. They can get up to $2000 as a tax credit for energy star qualified homes.

The biggest perk is your month to month savings. The gas bill for January in my old house ran as high as $250. Yes, the house was old. My current bill is not even close. I save at least 80$ a month over what I paid previously in utilities (Covers the HOA fee). The energy star compliance is also part of the sustainability principle of new urbanism. In fact, Daybreak has an almost 20% market share on energy star homes in Utah. So when you see the energy star logo think green.