A Study in Texas New Urbanism

Terrain.org takes a look at Plum Creek, a New Urbanist development outside Austin, TX that added 1,400 households to a town that had only 4,000 people in the mid-1990s.

"New urbanism provided the framework for the community design, and making the project affordable remained a driving force for the team. By developing in Kyle, the project would have a price advantage over Austin, and the goal of creating a place for a variety of people where home prices started in the $100,000s instead of the $400,000s remained primary throughout the planning and development process.

As is often the case for New Urbanism and smart growth communities, the desired lot sizes, street widths, mix of uses, and numerous other aspects proposed by the developer were not allowed under the City of Kyle's existing residential subdivision code. Benchmark spent 18 months negotiating a detailed planned unit development (PUD) agreement with the city. Sidewalks, planting strips, and street trees are part of Plum Creek's focus on pedestrians. Sidewalks, planting strips, and street trees are part of Plum Creek's focus on pedestrians.

The scale of the project was as daunting to city leaders as the nuts and bolts of the proposed ordinances. Issues of particular concern were lot sizes, street widths, and zoning uses. The planning and development team spent considerable time working to educate city leaders about the benefits of walkable, mixed-use communities, the safety benefits of narrow streets and alleyways, the value of preserving open space and building tax base through density. Ironically, the town's historic downtown features many of the desired design elements outlawed by the existing subdivision and development ordinances."

Thanks to Simmons Buntin

Full Story: UnSprawl Case Study: Plum Creek in Kyle, Texas



Admirable pedetrian scale -- but where is a grocery store?

This account of Plum Creek gives a great example of a unique development that sparked the interest of many people. However, I looked over the whole article and couldn't figure out where the people who live there walk to get basic groceries. An edited-selection grocery store offering fresh fruits, vegetables, bread, canned goods, and other basics at a reasonable cost might make a place like this even more livable and desirable.

Grocery store is coming?

The article shows an image of an Uptown Commercial area in the works that would likely have a grocery store. It also states that there is a 11- bed hospital and over two-million square feet of retail development now under development less than a mile from Plum Creek’s primary entrance.


What kind of retail though

If the "commercial area" is a typical shopping center with parking lagoon, that should disqualify this development from being called NU or "walkable".

Walkable commercial areas in and adjacent to Plum Creek


There are several small walkable commercial areas within Plum Creek and we are presently building the first blocks of our 70 acre urban town center called the Uptown District. Uptown is anchored by an existing 1,000 seat performing arts center and will contain mixed-use, commercial, residential, civic and public spaces in an urban walkable environment. Adjacent to Plum Creek, several large-scale conventional retail developments are underway.

Don't see the New Urbanisim

Looked at their site pretty closely and I don't see New Urbanism there except as a marketing slogan. Looks like normal sprawl-burbia to me. The street at the front of the homes is narrow but the paved allys are very wide ... seems like double the paving to me.

Maybe I'm missing something. Can anyone tell me what is NU about Plum Creek?

I can tell you what is NU about Plum Creek

Agreed, the website doesn't convey what is most valuable about the NU design in Plum Creek, but I assure you it is there. Plum Creek features a mix of housing types and prices, it is affordable, a mix of uses, commercial, retail, employment, light industrial, dedicated space for civic uses, we have schools, church, performing arts center, it has several centers (due to scale), the newest being a 70 acre urban town center development anchored by the 1000 seat performing arts center, it is semi self-governing through an active HOA and resident community, it is socially connected, there are over a dozen community-wide events each year, it is walkable, and we have a variety and abundance of open space. There are over 350 acres of open space in the first 1000 acre phase. Lastly, the social equity that is envisioned and encouraged by the design of a community like Plum Creek is highly visible. This element of NU design, the social infrastructure, is the hardest to cultivate, and the hardest to communicate through a website. But ask the residents about how living in Plum Creek has changed HOW they live and you will be amazed at the response.

Criticisms right on target

I live in Austin (just north of Kyle), and the criticisms leveled at Plum Creek (from readers just viewing this article) are valid. I have visited Plum Creek, and it has a "pastiche" of new urbanism (garages in the rear, front porches, narrow streets); but it was developed outside of the city limits (at the time; I believe it has been annexed since), with no mass transit to serve it, thus violating some of the most basic tenets of new urbanism (not relying solely on private automobiles, connectivity, etc.). It is an example of developers co-opting the "name" of new urbanism but not following new urbanism's most basic ideas.

The 13 Basic Elements of New Urbanism - Plum Creek has them all

DPZ defined New Urbanism as having 13 basic elements within a neighborhood. Plum Creek has them all. Having transit connectivity to Austin and San Antonio will be a tremendous addition to the community and to the region at large. We will continue to support and encourage the development of such a system, and to plan for a transit oriented development within Plum Creek that will support that system.

What's NU about Plum Creek

While it is regrettable that Plum Creek isn't served by transit today, it will be in the not-too-distant future. The Austin-San Antonio Commuter Rail District has selected Plum Creek as the site for the Buda/Kyle station. Including transit in the plan for the development was within the grasp of the development team, creating a regional transit system from scratch was not. What we have worked to do is to design and build a place that will make transit viable, once that regional system is in place. The Plum Creek community is home to over two dozen businesses today. Residents can walk to service retail including medical care (physicans, lab, x-ray, physcial therapy), the Lucky Cup Coffee House, a salon, a clothier, music and dance schools, a daycare, a church, cpa and insurance agents, and others without leaving the neighborhood. An HEB Plus grocery store is open next door to the community and 2,000,000 additional square feet of retail are being developed within 1 mile of the neighborhood. Seton Hospitals is building a 110 (not 11) bed hospital one mile west of Plum Creek, the hosptial and retail will employ over 5,000 people. Plum Creek has hundreds of acres of property zoned for employment and other commercial uses and is working to attract employers and institutions of higher education. Plum Creek features a mix of housing types and prices in a walkable, mixed-use environment. There are a variety of open spaces, both large and small, programmed, and unprogrammed with a short walk of each home. Streets are narrower than those in conventional projects, on-street parking is encouraged to slow traffic, and other traffic calming measures have been implemented.
Plum Creek is a green field development, and Plum Creek is new urbanism.

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