Here is a list of one-liners about suburbia, inspired by comedian Jeff Foxworthy, originator of the popular “you-know-you're-a-redneck-when” jokes.
You know you're in suburbia when:
o The only ethnic restaurants you can find are Italian and Chinese.
o The churches are all bunched together in a “religious-use” district.
o The synagogues have no Hebrew lettering on them, only English transliterations that make sense in no language whatsoever.
o Nobody approaches you in a supermarket parking lot asking if you want auto-body work done on the cheap.
o All of the construction is on the edge of town and not on infill sites.
The last comment was certainly true, until recent months, of the City of Dublin. A suburban outpost in the East Bay's Tri-Valley area, Dublin is a booming city made up largely of recently built housing and commercial buildings. In contrast to the charming row houses and shingle-style homes of the older cities in the region, Dublin looks as if it could have been designed in Orange County and built by a developer who couldn't read a map.
But enough suburbia jokes, which are not only impertinent but quite possibly irrelevant to our story. Cities are dynamic places, as all planners and developers know, and are always changing. This change is often to the good. Change was certainly a tonic idea for a city block in the industrial area of Dublin, where a K Mart operated until two years ago. Since K Mart closed, the Pac N' Save discount grocery and the Liquor Barn have left, followed by the Salvation Army. (You know things are bad when the second-hand stores bail out.) Last July, Livermore developer Michael Banducci, proprietor of Bancor Development, convinced the Dublin City Council to amend the city's general plan and rezone the block from “retail-office” to “mixed-use.”
Banducci's plans for town homes and retail is hardly revolutionary planning, but it is well-executed. The site plan is orderly. There is a central open space with a swimming pool and a clubhouse. The residential portion is mostly row houses, which are unusual for Dublin, even if they are typical of the Bay Area in general. The developer and his designers have varied the widths of the streets to differentiate between the mostly public shopping areas and the somewhat less public areas in front of housing. Best of all, the developer has opted for an open street plan that is permeable to the surrounding community, rather than a paranoid, gated fortress.
Tralee features 233 housing units in three housing types: condominium flats over the retail portion of the project, two-story townhouse units divided into 12 separate buildings and located behind the retail buildings, and three-story walk-up, or “stoop-style,” townhouses in clusters of four, five and seven units. Although the project is not a redevelopment project and has no public subsidy, the city required Banducci to set aside 12.5% of the units for low- to moderate-income renters.
The plan features alleys, beloved by New Urbanists but still rare in new developments. The townhouse buildings are “alley loaded,” with street-level parking in two-car garages. In the residential-and-retail buildings, the parking is in an underground structure, with elevator access to residential lobbies on floors 1 to 4.
I asked Banducci whether he had considered arranging the townhouse units in courtyards, a favorite housing type of mine.
“No,” he replied. “I wanted to create direct access to sidewalks as much as possible with the 'eyes on the streets.'” Where that was not possible, he added, “we created a nicely landscaped pedestrian allee bisecting through the townhouse portion of the project. The entire site, except for the western edge, is surrounded by public sidewalks on the existing streets.”
The project also contains 35,000 square feet of commercial space, much of which is to be devoted to “neighborhood-serving” merchants for the benefit of surrounding residents. Completion is set for mid-2006.
This is an intelligent and thoughtful project which is pretty good as it is. Insofar as I am writing a critique, let me make a few minor quibbles: While I admire the swimming pool and clubhouse, I would like to see more space for active recreation, such as tennis courts, a basketball hoop or a Little-League-sized ball field, which arguably would get more use than the swimming pool, which is seasonal. Also, I think the developer could, with very little cost or loss of land, provide a jogging path or bike trial around the periphery of the block to provide an alternate means of on-site exercise. I would also like to see more open space near some of the units. In the north-south oriented block of townhouses, immediately north of the existing gas station, there is a fine green space for the east side townhouses - but the townhouses on the west side of the street look out onto a parking lot, not grass.
Still, these are quibbles. Overall, the project marks an important breakthrough for Dublin.
As for that malarkey about “urban” vs. “suburban,” let us say that the distinction is more imagined than real. The areas we call urban and suburban are both urbanized and differ from each other only in density and, in some cases, in the types and diversity of uses. By ignoring the phony division, developers like Banducci are finding opportunities for themselves while benefiting the cities they work in. I suspect that some of Dublin's elected officials went through a learning curve regarding the concept of urban-infill in their newish, suburban town. The idea of building residential units in a largely industrial area could have been especially difficult to accept, even if everyone was probably delighted to get rid of an obsolete shopping centers.
Stubborn suburban attitudes create opportunities for a developer like Banducci, who is working on a second, smaller residential-and-retail project in the same city, this time on the site of Mountain Mike's pizza parlor on San Ramon Road. In the end, there is only one suburbia joke that is always true: You know you're a suburb when . . . you don't know you're really a city.