Tight lot lines, an eclectic architectural mix and sidewalks within lemonade handoff distance from front porches are the signatures of Prospect New Town. Residents love it but they admit it’s not for everyone.
Prospect, the spot-on execution of the archetypical New Urbanist planned community on the south end of Longmont, thinks it’s Mayberry, RFD. True, there is no Ernest T. Bass chucking rocks at Two Dog Diner. But the narrow, tree-lined streets that sport a funky collection of architectural styles are home to a remarkably close-knit bunch of residents who relish their unique neighborhood. Today, as Prospect approaches its 20th anniversary, it remains a work in progress, but it’s creators say it has more than exceeded expectations and revolutionized local land use planning.
The summer of ’92, Hurricane Andrew—one of the strongest Category 5 hurricanes to hit the US—blew into Florida, left serious destruction in its wake and changed lives forever. That same summer, Kiki Wallace made landfall in Longmont with a design charrette held at the Dickens Opera House and the results were similar; land use codes were laid waste (or at least pushed to their extremes) and New Urbanist development philosophies changed city officials forever.
“The conventional wisdom in terms of land development at the time that Prospect was coming through the system was one of wide streets, big setbacks, low density and it was completely auto oriented,” said Brad Schol, planning manager for Longmont, who has been involved in Prospect from the beginning. “It was big tract development.
“It was cool to see this project come in,” Schol said. “The whole template was different. It was denser and the emphasis was on the pedestrian.”
That design charrette asked a lot of questions about what people wanted in a neighborhood, and Wallace listened, assimilating much of what people described into a vision of how his family’s 80-acre orchard would be transformed.
“It has more to do with sociology than it does architecture,” Wallace said. “The site planning is what makes Prospect work; how a home sits on the lot itself, how does it relate to the buildings around it and how does it relate to the pedestrian.”
Such an approach to development isn’t foreign, just take a walk (or bike ride) through Longmont’s old town. A block or two off of Main Street between Third Avenue and Longs Peak Avenue is a fine example of what sane, thoughtful pedestrian-oriented land use once looked like. Unlike the “Planned Unit Development” crap that hit its stride 25–30 years ago, century old homes in Longmont’s downtown core—like those in Prospect—have front porches, the dominant design feature isn’t the two-car garage door, streets are straight and free of cul-de-sacs. Wallace uses the front porch as an example.
“The way a porch works is to make it 8 feet deep,” he says. “If you want to make them functional, you have to have an 8-foot porch; a 6-foot-deep porch is not functional.”
By functional, he means they become livable spaces—places for a table and chairs or a swing that would actually be used—not worthless elements tacked on for its looks.
But the success of Prospect, according to Wallace, is not porches and miniscule front yards. “Architecture isn’t what makes this work; it’s the people,” he said. “It functions better than it looks like it functions.”
And like dark beer, Brussels sprouts and Beethoven, Prospect is an acquired taste.
“Prospect is not for everybody,” said Noelle Aparelli from the porch swing on her “New Orleans”-style home. “There’s not a lot of privacy; people know when you’re coming and going. But that’s not a bad thing.”
While the design of the place compels interaction—mail is delivered to a central collection—it’s generally considered a plus.
“We moved here from Boulder five years ago, and I’ve made five times the number of friends here as I had in Boulder after 10 years,” said Steve Wilton as he wound his rainbow colored, winged box kite down into Prospect’s central park. “I love it here.”
In some respects, though, the love stops at the border. The downright disdain that outsiders have for the neighborhood occasionally rears its head when the place makes the news. Last March, a suspected drunk truck driver from Tennessee got “lost” in the narrow streets and went postal with his 18-wheeler. He trashed cars, signs, lamp posts, trees and houses before being stopped. The comments in local media ranged from calling the event “hilarious” to saying the guy couldn’t have done such damage if Prospect was a “normally sized and shaped neighborhood with more spacing between homes and wider streets.”
“Obviously the development is different and it carries some baggage with it and people are sensitive about criticism; they take it way too personally,” Wallace said. “But as long as the people who live here are happy, who cares what other people think?”
Indeed. But when you meet people who live there, it’s hard not to miss a tinge of superiority when they talk about how nice it is to know their neighbors, the family across the street and the retired couple on the corner. The folks in Prospect, by design or by desire, walk the walk of being neighbors. If that’s wrong, they don’t care about being right.