New Urbanism Makes Kentlands/Lakelands a Happy Place to Live

Photo | Phil Fabrizio A January full moon over Hart Street illuminates the quiet neighborhood.

Photo | Phil Fabrizio
A January full moon over Hart Street illuminates the quiet neighborhood.

Marina Khoury quoted a very old Greek philosopher during her Jan. 9 lecture about New Urbanism at the Arts Barn. The architect, urban designer and planner noted that the statement the ancient Socrates made—“By far, the greatest and most admirable form of wisdom is that needed to plan and beautify cities and human communities”—resonates with the design movement she and her firm, DPZ-CoDesign, represent.

“We believe great places foster human happiness,” said Khoury, who lives in Lakelands and directs DPZ’s Kentlands office. “We design economically and environmentally resilient communities that nurture physical and social wellbeing.”

Khoury said that DPZ, designers and planners of more than 300 new and existing communities around the world, has been the Kentlands community architect since 2007. The original Kentlands developer, Joseph Alfandre, enlisted the firm for his project in the early 1980s; Kentlands, one the earliest New Urbanist communities, was established in 1988, and Lakelands followed in 1996. In 2015, Khoury accepted a United Nations Environment Programme and Global Forum for Human Settlement award on behalf of Kentlands.

About 75 people—including both newcomers and long-term residents of Kentlands/Lakelands as well as interested non-residents—gathered to hear Khoury talk about the New Urbanism movement and how its principles guide the evolution of the community in which we live. The Kentlands Community Foundation (KCF) sponsored the program, introduced by its Board of Directors Chair Ruthzaly Weich.

The New Urbanism design movement, which guided the development of Kentlands, promotes environmentally friendly habits by creating walkable neighborhoods with a broad range of housing and businesses. Although its name includes the word “new,” the approach is based on the principles of how cities and towns were built in the past, among these, a connected network of relatively narrow, tree-shaded walkable streets, with a discernible town center; a diversity of dwelling types, rarely with front garages, within a five- or 10-minute walk to shops and offices near the edge of the community; an elementary school and small playgrounds within walking distance for children; civic buildings for meetings, education, religion or culture; and the existence of a formal association to decide on matters of maintenance, security and physical change.

As Khoury pointed out, the approach was conceived as an alternative to sprawl—which has proven negative economic, health and environmental consequences. The goal is diverse communities with no more than a five- to 10-minute walk from center to edge.

Khoury’s topic, “Connecting People to Places: New Urbanism, Kentlands and designing thriving places” is particularly relevant at a time when the community is undergoing a new phase in three main locations. Development and renovation plans are in place for the two downtown commercial properties owned by Saul Centers and Kimco Realty, and the Diya Restaurant site at Quince Orchard Road and Great Seneca Highway will be the location of a new apartment complex.

The presentation addressed patterns of settlement, offering a historical perspective of design rules and zoning, and the theory, principles and evolution of New Urbanism. Khoury also talked about the need to establish form-based codes, land development regulations that will “reconnect planning to the appropriate zoning tools to deliver walkable, mixed-use neighborhood development and healthier living conditions.”

She noted the consequences of sprawl, including car dependence, excessive automobile traffic, lack of transportation options, lack of useable open space, excessive land consumption, degraded wilderness and habitat, increased air pollution, increased burden on municipal infrastructure—and most importantly, a diminished quality of life.

In contrast, Khoury said, New Urbanism promotes the achievement and restoration of time-tested forms of urbanism; vitality, walkability and economic resilience to towns and cities; preservation of the natural environment and cultural heritage.

By the end of the 90-minute presentation, audience members were well aware of the multiple advantages of being part of the Kentlands/Lakelands community.