I would not presume that the bankruptcy filing by Whittaker Homes of St. Charles spells the end of New Urbanism. But the particular type of New Urbanism celebrated by Whittaker is very likely a thing of the past. A new stand-alone town in the middle of a field, several miles from any established retail or other amenities and more than 30 minutes from the region’s largest job center is destined to fail.
It may be trendy to dump on this type of New Urbanism, as has been done on this site and others. In a previous post, “New Town St. Charles: Your future is here (it’s ugly)“, I spelled out why the future of places like New Town are so bleak and and how New Urbanism has disappointed. Commercial success perhaps shouldn’t be the hallmark of a neighborhood or community, such things do naturally come and go, and the financial current financial crisis has hit homebuilders of all types hard, but I believe that New Town at St. Charles was especially vulnerable because of its particular failings.
New Town will not disappear, plenty of people are happy to live there, but its promise is gone. It’s become just another suburban enclave and will face the same challenges as other suburban developments; lack of retail, long commutes, etc. While the website still mentions the bringing restored streetcars to New Town, this, and the possibility of adding other amenities is now even more remote.
Whittaker claims that they are still selling homes, though they offer no specific number for New Town. A quick MLS search shows at least 27 homes for sale in New Town. Another search shows more than 220 homes sold in the past two years, but only 16 of those in the past 12 months.
To even have a chance at fulfilling its promise as a New Urbansim development, New Town needs to double in size (and many problems would still exist). This was/is part of the plan. A critical mass of individuals is needed to support retail and recreational activities and the current number of residents is clearly not enough. The bankruptcy filing of Whittaker Builders, Inc. is just the latest sign that this promise will not be fulfilled.
Postmodern architectural historian Charles Jencks proclaimed the demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe public housing project as “the day Modern architecture died.” Today it’s difficult to imagine another development like New Town being built. Perhaps, the day Whittaker filed for bankruptcy will one day be recognized as the day New Urbanism died and St. Louis will once again be a hallmark for urban and new urban development.
On a side note, a spokesperson for Whittaker commented briefly on the bankruptcy filing on St. Louis Public Radio. He stated that the bankruptcy filing would serve to protect Whittaker’s assets and was necessary because the home builder was dealing with an increasingly uncooperative bank. Funny how banks get increasingly uncooperative when you don’t pay them.