Keith Bartholomew has felt a little like John the Baptist in the desert as of late.
The urban planning professor's message to the suburbs: "Repent."
Amid the picket fences and two-car garages, a deluge of "for sale" signs and foreclosures highlights the failure of "the real estate machine" and the redefinition of the American Dream, Bartholomew said.
And as the country looks to resuscitate its housing market, the University of Utah academic hopes Americans will return to the urban core, swapping a love affair with the car and the cul-de-sac for mass transit and mixed-use developments.
"That's more reflective of what the American Dream is now," Bartholomew said. "A home is not just the four walls of a suburban house. It's the neighborhood and the community."
The idea has taken hold with planners, developers and municipal leaders. They lauded Daybreak's "walkability" and City Creek Center's "New Urbanism." Mixed-use developments, touting a chance to work, shop and play close to home, were planned all over the Salt Lake Valley.
But before they ushered in the promised mix of tenants and shop owners, nearly all of the major developments were put on hold as credit markets tightened, leaving developers and potential buyers without funding.
In some cases, the fiscal climate exposed the developments' weaknesses.
"When you stack uses on top of each other, all of the uses have to be working the market at the time you build," said Frank Gray, Salt Lake City's community and economic development director.
But planners believe the basic idea behind the projects will survive.
Mixing uses, whether it's apartments on top of stores or a coffee shop in the downtown library, puts "eyes on the street" and brings vibrancy to an area, said U. planning professor Stephen Goldsmith.
Bartholomew expects property values to rise in central neighborhoods, walkable neighborhoods near mass transit and a mix of uses.
"The market is very strong for that model of development," he said.
In many ways, the idea is a return to the design principles that founded this valley.16 comments on this story
"The speed of our network was very slow," Ron Milam, a transportation consultant at Fehr & Peers, told a group at the Wasatch Sustainability Summit last month. "Basically we walked everywhere. So we put land uses close together. As speed increased, we were able to put land uses farther apart."
Now the "pendulum is starting to swing back," Milam said.
"The type of housing we've had in the past, there's not going to be as large a demand for it," he said. "If we look back on the 20th century, it was about getting around. The 21st century will be about creating places where people want to stay."