Monday, April 4, 2005


We met some new friends in Chapel Hill, via some old friends, and in the course of conversation they told us a little about the new neighborhood they live in (I swear I didn't bring up the subject. Really!). From what they said, it sounded a lot like a neo-traditional development, so I dragged Laurette and my youngest daughter along to see it. My daughter was enticed in to coming only by a promised stopoff at Southpoint Mall.

Her attitude changed when we found our new friends' neighborhood, which is called Meadowmont. The drizzly, cool day was a bit dreary, but she ooh'd and ahh'd over what she saw.

Meadowmont has almost everything you might expect from a traditional neighborhood district. There are sidewalks on both sides of the street, planted with trees. The houses have wide and deep front porches, and separate walks lead from the sidewalk to the porch. The point is to encourage a lot of street activity, and apparently it works. Nikko, a resident I talked to, said that neighbors do a lot of socializing on their porches.

There's a variety of housing types. Lots of small cottages, like this one,

and also much bigger, elaborate houses:

The architecture is eclectic, obviously borrowing lots of elements and ideas from traditional American houses, but they don't exactly look old-fashioned, either.

I was mostly impressed with the ways they solve the "garage door problem" -- how do you downplay the entrance to something that is nothing more than a huge storage area? On all the houses, the garage is either recessed, or decorated with elements like windows or faux hardware, or painted a darker color. Some of them are made to look like old-fashioned carriage house doors, and some houses have detached garages with alley access. I also like the way they planted grass strips in most of the wider driveways to break up the stark appearance of the concrete and reduce the amount of impermeable surface.

These rowhouses are really very opulent, and some are priced at $1.2 million (yes, you read that right). The ground slopes away to the rear, so they're actually four stories tall, with rear alley, underground garage access and rear balconies with beautiful views of the rest of the neighborhood. What's remarkable to me is that they're just a stone's throw from middle-class town houses and -- gasp -- apartments. Apparently some of the very rich enjoy hobnobbing with the middle class. I like that.

All of this is within a short walk of the neighborhood center, which features a Harris Teeter (you can see the low-end townhouses near it)

and a small commercial district that has shops, offices, and restaurants, with condominiums on the 2nd and 3rd floors.

Also at the neighborhood center are an elementary school, a wellness center, a retirement community, and a swim club. With all that stuff, it's pretty obvious that the neighborhood houses people from all stages of life.

Everyone I talked to there seemed ridiculously happy with the neighborhood, and even on that drizzly, cool Saturday, quite a few people were walking around or hanging out in the coffee shop.

The only person who wasn't happy to be there was my daughter. She said, "Dad, why did you bring me here? Now I'm just mad that I can't live here."

One reason we can't live there is price. Chapel Hill has the highest real estate costs in the state, and a Meadowmont resident told me that the neighborhood is so popular that it's now commanding the highest per-square-foot prices in Chapel Hill. It's also true that building a neighborhood this way just plain costs more than building a bunch of houses out in a field.

But if I lived in Chapel Hill, I'd be willing to pay, I think. It's really a pretty remarkable place.

You can read Meadowmont's sales pitch here.


Rob Ainbinder said...


This is UNBELIEVABLE. Count us in on wanting to move there as well! (With great exception to the pricing). Thanks for the great pictures and up close look on what (I hope) will someday enter the Triad market. (Do we always have to be the last area to embrace a trend?)

I think you're pulling our leg. You did bring up architecture/New Urbanisim/sidewalks. You just don't want to admit it. ;-)

David Wharton said...

Believe it or not, I really didn't bring up the architecture thing -- they did.

Not that I wouldn't have, given the chance.

Rob Ainbinder said...

Just to follow-up: Smart Money magazine (which showed up in the mail last night) has a cover story on "The New Middle Class Home". The story notes that folks seem to be flocking to small homes packed with features (and upgrades) rather than those grande, snout nosed, behemoths built in fields.

I wouldn't blame you at all for bringing up the architecture thing. Since they did... even better.

Anonymous said...

This is such a beautiful ideas, and it's not a new idea. Many of us grew up in neighborhoods much like the one described in your article. I think that the best neighborhoods have a mix of housing types and include a diverse population in terms of age, income, religions, etc. The best neighborhoods contain people who care about their neighbors as people and this comes from knowing each other, not from competing with each other. - One of the nicest things about the neighborhood that you described is that there is a place for neighborhood people in every phase of their lives, from young couples starting out, couples with children, retired people and single people and multi-generational famiies. - Can we do that in Greensboro? Of course we can, but we need to convince the people who "run" Greensboro that quality of life means more than having more money than your neighbor or having a bigger house or a bigger lawn. - Thank you for showing us that this kind of development can succeed. I have been an cheerleader for this for years. - One of the ways that we can help this to happen is to stop segregating our population by income and race. We can do it. Everone can help. Let the city planners know what you think. Now is the time! - Downtown Diane

Anonymous said...

It may be wise to consider whether some developments are so large they are less a neighborhood than a private verisimilitude of one. See: