Thursday, June 9, 2005

Willow Oaks

I wrote a while back that there isn't much in the way of neo-traditional or new urbanist development in Greensboro, and as regards big, for-profit residential developments, that's true.

But out of sheer ignorance I overlooked a new development that's really remarkable: Willow Oaks. This is the low-income project that is replacing the failed Morningside Homes project in southeast Greensboro. I'm short on the nuts-and-bolts details of this place, such as how much federal money is going into it (though I know it's in the tens of millions), the planners, developers, and staff involved, etc. All of which I'll get to later.

Right now, just have a look at the pictures.

Here is a typical streetscape:

These houses are all attached, though they have separate facades and porches. The architectural inspiration is obviously the Craftsman bungalow, which I love, though some might find their effect "faux-historic." To my mind, the surrounding neighborhood -- and Greensboro itself -- has enough Craftsman houses to justify this design decision. And to me, the scale and presence of this style of architecture is inviting and comfortable.

The multifamily building pictured below obviously draws on Victorian / Queen Anne elements of style and massing, though, again, no one is likely to mistake this for an actual historic structure. What should really jump out at you, though, is the mature willow oak that the developer successfully preserved. You'll notice mature trees throughout this development, not just at its edges. I'll be curious to ask the developer how he managed this, and how much it cost, since most for-profit developers just don't do this.

I wanted to get a side shot of this row of townhouses to show how careful the planners were to maintain standards of architectural detailing (note the keystones over the windows) on all the building elevations. Notice, too, the trees planted in the greenways between the sidewalk and street. These are everywhere throughout Willow Oaks.

Here's a closer look at the front elevation of the townhouses.

More of the bungalow-style units. Note the decorative street lighting. It adds a nice touch, but doesn't look like it was particularly expensive.

Below you can see what it looks like behind the buildings. Parking areas are served by alleys, and trash / utility areas are screened and landscaped. This rear parking area looks nicer than some front townhome facades I've seen.

I guess I'd call these units Colonial Revival -- another common architectural style in Greensboro.

Even the traffic islands seem well-designed. This one will give pedestrians a safe and pretty "landing spot" as they're crossing the streets.

I included the photo below to show just how many mature trees there are here. Most of them are willow oaks -- hence the name of the development I guess.

And more construction is still going on.

Overall, this neighborhood just knocked me out. Not only did it seem inviting and very walkable, it also seemed quiet and safe -- and it's in a part of town that lots of Greensboro people think of as not safe. But it seemed like a place where I'd like to live.

In terms of neighborhood design, I think Willow Oaks is a lot better than what most Greensboro developers are currently offering. Maybe part of the reason for that is the millions of federal dollars that this project has received. But maybe, too, our local for-profit development community is a little behind the times.

Clarification: My dad writes to point out that the developer of Willow Oaks is no doubt "for-profit" as well. Right as usual, Dad. The distinction I should have made is between subsidized and non-subsidized housing.


Anonymous said...

Very nice. Thanks for the pictures, David.

I had no idea this was happening. The area actually looks nicer than some apartments I have lived in. From the pictures, it almost looks like a resort.

Anonymous said...

The architect for the project was STEC Architects of Greensboro, the same company that designed St. Leo's and several other retirement communities in town. What you didn't show in the photos was the areas adjacent to Willow Oaks, which are still the low brick barracks-style apartments that populate low income east GSO. Some of them are burned out and boarded up; some have been "fixed" by their slumlords since WO was completed. But the contrast is amazing; not just visually but in the sense of pride and ownership that the residents of WO have compared to the slums.

Anonymous said...

For profit or for-subsidized, you are still right. This is a fabulous example of my tax dollars at work. In the olden days, I used to drive my babysitter to and from this area and I had to look twice to understand it was the same "complex of low-income housing." Kudos to those involved; I remember it was a long time coming and took lots of meetings and consensus, but it appears to be worth it. Keep visiting, let us see updates on your blog as more and more families move in. What's the current occupancy rate? Do you know?

Anonymous said...

They all look very classy! Sure puts those vinyl-clad, slab-foundation homes at Reedy Fork Ranch to shame.

Rob Alan said...

WOW! If only we could qualify. Seems that developers cover the low and high end in this vernacular but, miss the middle.

Very nice job on keeping the trees and providing common spaces. An appropriate blend of styles works well against the backdrop of architecture around the city.

Anonymous said...

Double wow - they named it after what's still there.
This has got to be a first.

Sally said...

This must be a Hope VI project. No other public housing looks like this. I see that it is. But note the very bad news: No more Hope VI if George Bush has anything to do with it.

Anonymous said...

I actually lived in these apartments while I was in school -- as a student, I was technically "low income" enough to qualify. The apartments are even nicer on the inside--they are all occupied, as well, with a year to year and a half waiting list. The background checks are very thorough and while the complex is safe, I wouldn't have gone jogging alone at night. And, we did hear gunshots from the surrounding neighborhoods from time to time... other than that, they were great and for a two-bedroom townhouse to cost $377 a month, you can't beat that.

Anonymous said...

Willow Oaks is a neo-traditional community of mixed-use housing. There are single homes priced from $112,900 up to $185,000 with detached garages, twin style dublexs home starting at $90,900 and live-work units planned for later. There is a club house and yard care for the homeowner. The article focused on the apartments which are renting mostly to the elderly and handicapped residents. Willow Oaks is a mixed-use redevelopment neighborhood designed to provide some quality affordable rental units and about 330 owner occupied homes.

Willow Oaks is only 2 miles from the center of downtown Greensboro. For those folks who can not afford Southside which was Greensboro's first major public funded redevelopment project, consider Willow Oaks. It has young and old, retirees and working, professional and non-professionals living and enjoying the charm and comfort of front porches, sidewalks, street lights and a peaceful community.
One of the builders, Chavis and Kelly Builders won the Gold Award at the 2006 Parade of Homes...