Creating The Perfect Town

Kentwoods, Md., a community designed by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company dpz.com

The story was originally broadcast on May 20, 2007.
At first glance, Kentlands, Md. looks like a snapshot of an old-fashioned city or small town neighborhood: a mix of houses, schools, shops and cafes, all within an easy stroll.

Just like the old days, some of those neighbors even reside above the store.

But this town is not an old established area. Twenty years ago, none of it was here.

Kentlands is a town built from scratch, according to town architect Mike Watkins.

"The main street's the heart of the community. It's where neighbors hang out," he told Sunday Morning correspondent Rita Braver. "Kentlands is 352 acres, 2200 residential units, about a third multi-family, a third townhouses and a third singles in rough numbers."

There are rental apartments, too, and lots of shared green space. The governing principal is simple.

"Many of us prefer walking to driving, so it was deliberately designed as a place as a counterpoint to that — to offer an alternative to driving absolutely everywhere," Watkins said.

In fact, Kentlands is just one example of a movement that's been dubbed "new urbanism."

"Well, essentially the suburbs have crashed," said Andres Duany, who with his wife, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, is leading the new urban movement. "The promise of suburban living was not fulfilled. You don't get nature, you get a little lawn. You don't get the freedom to drive everywhere, you get traffic congestion."

Duany and Plater-Zyberk run the firm, DPZ, which is based in Miami.

"We take these things that developers that are doing usually badly in a sprawling way, and we assemble them into towns," Duany said.

They have designed several hundred new communities all over the world. The most famous is Florida's Seaside — a town so seemingly perfect, it was the backdrop for "The Truman Show," a movie about a man who lived his life on the set of a TV show. But Seaside is a real accomplishment. Time magazine called it "the most astounding design achievement of its era."

"I think they're part of a utopian dream which has long been part of life in the United States," Plater-Zyberk said.

Americans have been pursuing perfection for generations. In the 18th and 19th centuries there were many religious and spiritual utopian communities, including the Amana Colonies in Iowa and Shaker villages in New York and elsewhere. Even the first suburbs were part of the search for utopia, an attempt to flee the grit of some big cities.

"The center of the city was getting almost unlivable," architect Witold Rbycyznski said. "You have factories and manufacturing, all this dirty stuff next to people's houses. And so the wealthiest people started moving out to the edges."

  • Caitlin Johnson

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