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Posted: July 01, 2009

Rundles wrap-up: A lovely walk

If less is more, small is beautiful, and “walkability” really catches on, then there are big changes afoot

Jeff Rundles

When I was a kid, I thought we were rich. We lived in a 2,500-square-foot Cape Cod, four bedrooms, 2½ baths, a full basement and a two-car garage, one of the nicest properties in a very nice neighborhood.

Of course, there were seven of us, and we kids shared bedrooms, but at the time it sure looked like the upper middle class. Many of my schoolmates lived in much more modest homes, where everyone was pretty packed in, but they seemed comfortable and hardly anyone gave it much thought. Oh, there were a few much larger homes, and a few “my-house-is-bigger-than-your-house” showoffs, but not many. As my mother used to say, “I’d hate to have to clean it.”

Of course, that all changed in the 1980s, ’90s and into this decade as the McMansion boom really took hold. And for quite a while there I believe this led to suburban sprawl, as many of the younger people coming into their home-buying and child-rearing years found they could go larger if they were willing to make the commute back to civilization for work, groceries and the other necessities of life. The object wasn’t location; it was purely size. The bigger, the better.

There’s a sea change happening, and I believe it will have a profound effect on urban and suburban development for years to come. The first effect is about size. There are quite a few rather largish spec houses for sale in my neighborhood, and while they are nicely done, about the only people who can afford them these days want to downsize. Not because of the price, mind you, but because, I believe, of the carbon footprint. I read right here in ColoradoBiz last month, in David Lewis‘ piece on Telluride real estate, that even in a haven for the über rich there’s a “shift in philosophy … the concept of ‘more is better’ is over.” People are looking for smaller, more energy-efficient houses.

I truly believe what this means is that the scrape-off days are over and will be replaced with redeveloping existing homes into more modest, yet more modern, homes.

The other effect is location, once again, I believe, because of carbon footprint angst.

Rundles_houses_lrg.jpg

I was recently doing some research on real estate – foreclosure rates, etc. – and came upon a service called Walk Score. I found it referenced by many Realtor websites as a selling point on certain pieces of property. As the website proclaims: “Walk Score calculates the walkability of an address by locating nearby stores, restaurants, schools, parks, etc. Walk Score measures how easy it is to live a car-lite lifestyle.”

On a 100-point scale, 90-100 is a “Walkers’ Paradise;” 70-89 is “Very Walkable;” 50-69 is “Somewhat Walkable;” 25-49 is “Car-Dependent;” and, 0-24 is “Car-Dependent (Driving Only).”  My own house in University Park scored a 74. My friend’s house in the Highlands came in at 75. Another friend’s house, deep in Highlands Ranch, scored a 29.

If less is more, small is beautiful, and “walkability” really catches on, then there are big changes afoot. We already see developments, like Lowry and Stapleton, built around city centers where standard amenities can be reached on foot, and where the housing stock is much more varied. And then you have areas like Bel-Mar and The Streets at SouthGlenn designed with a much more city, and less suburban, feel.

If you look at the broad expanses of suburban neighborhoods built over the last 20 years, the bulk of them are highly un-walkable and amazingly outdated in so short a time. When you consider the inevitable return to $4-plus-a-gallon gasoline and newer preferences for smaller homes and walkable, city-like neighborhoods, the whole eastern half of Highlands Ranch and many far-flung developments all around the metro area could see their property values plummet. It was breathtaking to see how fast they developed. It could easily be disastrous to see how fast they decay.

We’ve been in our home 15 years now, and it has gone from among the largest in the neighborhood to among the smallest, and we haven’t changed a thing. And for some reason, every year it seems easier to clean, and more accessible to a lovely walk.
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Jeff Rundles is a former editor of ColoradoBiz and a regular columnist. Email him at jrundles@cobizmag.com.

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Readers Respond

Carbon footprint, really? Perhaps the people who originally bought larger homes in the 80s and 90s are downsizing because their children have moved out and there is no need to for 5 bedrooms and a huge kitchen? Prices in Highlands Ranch have held on very well, prices in nearby Centennial have held on quite well. We're still talking 350K to 450K for a 4 bedroom home in many neighborhoods in Centennial (homes built in the late 70s and early 80s). Also, 20 to 25 miles from the city is not far when compared to other major cities, e.g. Chicago, LA or even Houston. Perhaps the author has been blinded by too much of Al Gore's carbon free smoke. By M.J.Z. on 2009 07 08
Interesting stuff, but I know your friend's house and area. The park is across the street BUT she can't really walk to a grocery store. she can walk to a bar/restaurant in about 10-12 blocks, keeping in mind that she has to walk up hill back. The house is also valued at about $400-450K and were talking 1200 sq. ft. Maybe the drive isn't so bad. By Tony Yuthas on 2009 07 08

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