The Rise Of the Smart Growth Suburb

Most of the suburbs of the 20th century weren't designed to last more than a generation or two. As many suburbs decay, or get replaced by farther-flung rings of new bedroom communities, Carmel, Indiana is trying something different.
February 24, 2015, 11am PST | Josh Stephens
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In the age of smart growth, cities don't have to have all the fun. Carmel, Indiana, a large, upscale suburb of Indianapolis is now 20 years into a development program envisioned to make it the anti-suburb. City planners envisioned it as a "complete city," with its own commercial and cultural attractions, and it embraced tenets of New Urbanism almost before New Urbanism existed. 

Aaron Renn offers a in-depth assessment of Carmel's progress, lauding the city's multi-year investments in parks, roads, annexation, water infrastructure, "retro" architecture, and a Main Street retail and arts district as well as a second "main street" called City Center. 

Renn writes, "The goal of all this development is not the full urbanization of Carmel; this city does not aspire to be dense metropolis, or even Indianapolis. It’s rather about creating more town center type districts with the walkable feel that’s increasingly in favor, but without compromising the fundamental suburban character of the city."

The result is that Carmel was named the nation's No. 1 suburb by Money Magazine. It is also $900 million in debt. Nonetheless, Renn considers Carmel a model for what the 21st century suburb can be. 

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Published on Monday, February 23, 2015 in New Geography
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