San Francisco-based developer Culdesac has broken ground on what it calls the first dedicated, car-free residential development in the United States. Culdesac Tempe is a $140-million mixed-use neighborhood that will house up to 1,000 residents in 636 multi-family units laid out on 16 acres. None of those residents will be allowed to drive or park personal cars on the property, and they can’t park in the surrounding areas, either. Ryan Johnson, a Culdesac co-founder and its CEO, told the Wall Street Journal, “Transportation has changed a lot over the last decade and real estate hasn’t kept up. Now there’s the chance for us to build the first post-car development.” Transportation options on and off the development will include a light rail station across the street, scooters, bikes, ridesharing, and a few spaces for carsharing vehicles.
There will be some parking on site for 24,000-square-feet of retail concerns that include a food hall, grocery story, and coffee shop, plus visitor parking. Eliminating a huge chunk of space normally used for roads and resident parking pads makes wholesale changes to the habitat; according to the co-founders, “half of the land area will be covered in landscaping, public courtyards, and greenery,” which it says is three times the typical share of green space for an urban development. There will also be room for traditional amenities like a pool, a gym, and communal fire pits, and luxury touches like plazas, green spaces, a human park and a separate dog park, and shared working spaces (think WeWork). And since most of the units will be one-bedrooms, there will be private guest suites for visitors so that “living space won’t be wasted on rarely-used extra bedrooms.” When the development opens in the fall, rents are planned to range from $1,400 to $1,500, only slightly above the average Tempe rent of $1,360.
In a desert city like Tempe, additional benefits accrue from having more green space and less exposed concrete, like cutting down the effects of heat islands. Driveable areas won’t be composed of asphalt, either, decomposed granite and permeable pavers will be used instead. Culdesac worked with the police and fire departments to ensure suitable access into the neighborhood for first responders.
Johnson and co-founder Jeff Berens are Arizona natives and chose Tempe because the city council was willing to work with Culdesac on the novel proposal. The city relaxed some zoning rules, and waived the usual parking spot requirements. Maricopa County has been the fastest growing county in the U.S. for three years, and Tempe’s population is predicted to double by 2040. The city’s trying to catch up with public transportation options, with “border-to-border light rail” that connects downtown and Phoenix airport, 200 miles of bike lanes, dockless scooters, municipal Uber and Lyft pick-up stations, free neighborhood buses, and a streetcar network that will be running in two years.
It will be interesting to see who moves in. Culdesac says it has “enormous” demand for the units already. That could be aided by the fact that Tempe’s a college town built around Arizona State University and the median age there is under 30, even though reports show millennials buying cars in the same numbers as the previous generation. If Culdesac Tempe takes off, the developers have their eyes on more and larger neighborhoods across the country in typical car-centric cities like Dallas-Fort Worth, Denver, and Raleigh-Durham, and other cities and developers will take note. Berens said, “Ultimately our goal is to build the first car-free city in the United States. The goal is to create a city where everyone can access jobs and amenities without feeling like they need to own a car. Some people may still choose to own a car, but the structure of the city would be set up to enable a car-free lifestyle.”