Jon and Stephanie Sundock enjoy living in the past.
"We like the old-town style here," said Jon Sundock of the couple's house in Rosemary Beach, a master-planned housing development on Florida's Panhandle.
Although the beach town dates from 1995, it was created to look much older. Based on the principles of new urbanism and traditional neighborhood design, the community is reminiscent of yesteryear, long before automobile-powered suburban sprawl.
"It's great to park the car, and bike everywhere, even to restaurants," Sundock said.
While the Sundocks are enthusiastic fans of the old-fashioned lifestyle, is this a community-planning model that will continue to flourish in the 21st century? Will the nostalgic movement that was hot in the 1980s and '90s cool down when housing rebounds?
Proponents say new urbanism will have a bright future, although new projects have been slowed by the recession since 2008.
The movement arose as an antidote to sprawl, promoting the use of mass transit and encouraging walkable neighborhoods, like those that were built years ago, rather than the drive-everywhere neighborhoods of suburbia. This glorification of the past meant copying vintage housing styles. At Rosemary Beach, for example, the more than 600 residences reflect the historic architecture of the West Indies; Charleston, S.C.; St. Augustine, Fla.; and New Orleans.
Neo-traditional design hit a peak of popularity in 1996 with the opening of Celebration near Walt Disney World in Florida. The 4,900-acre development by Walt Disney Co. was created to resemble small-town America of the 1930s and before. Victorian and Colonial Revival styles predominated in the 2,500 residences.
Though Celebration ranks as new urbanism's most famous project, the trend was launched on Florida's Panhandle in 1981 at Seaside, not far from where Rosemary Beach is today.
Seaside is known for its unique look: picket fences, pastel-colored cottages, narrow streets and a downtown in easy walking distance.
"My idea was to revive my experience as a small child," said Robert Davis, founder and developer of Seaside.
Pointing to the ongoing value of new urbanist design, Davis noted, "Current prices at Seaside are down 20 to 30 percent, but down 40 percent or more in the rest of Florida."
New urbanism has influenced more than 600 new projects nationwide. But the pace has slowed.
"There has been a long dry spell in new urbanism developments because of the economy," said Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, dean of the school of architecture at the University of Miami.
But she sees better days ahead: "The new urbanism product has maintained its value, and going forward there will absolutely be a resurgence. New urbanism is still a model for the future. It's exactly what the boomers want."
Her opinion carries weight since she and her husband, Andres Duany, were among the pioneers in new urbanism. Their Miami-based Duany Plater-Zyberk Co. designed Seaside and Rosemary Beach.
John Norquist, president and CEO of the Congress for the New Urbanism, said some of the goals of new urbanism have been stymied by zoning codes.
"We want to restore the kind of communities people like," he said. "We've had some success, but we have a long way to go."
Peter Calthorpe, another pioneer of new urbanism, believes the movement will continue to be a strong force. Housing developments that reduce the dependence on the automobile are gaining in acceptance, said Calthorpe, principal of Calthorpe Associates in Berkeley, Calif.
"The nation can't afford sprawl," said Calthorpe, adding that sprawl was curbed by the housing meltdown.
He is a strong advocate of transit-oriented development. One of the main components of new urbanism, transit-oriented development calls for neighborhoods with a mix of moderate- to high-density housing within walking or biking distance of mass transit.
"(Transit-oriented development ) is gaining momentum and will meet the needs of the market," Calthorpe said.
His firm was the urban designer for Stapleton, the redevelopment of the former Stapleton airport in Denver. With some 10,000 houses built, it has narrow streets to slow traffic, garages tucked away in alleys and front porches.
Not everyone is a cheerleader for old-style houses with front porches. Among the critics is California architect Barry Berkus.
"Neo-traditional design looks back, not forward. New urbanists think all good architecture was done before 1940. But society has moved on," said Berkus, founder and president of B3 Architects and Berkus Design Studio in Santa Barbara.
"New urbanism has been promoted as the great answer to housing needs and urban sprawl. But it's not for everyone. Before air conditioning, there were reasons for front porches. People in summer would sit on porches until the house cooled down. That's not the way people live today," he said.
John McIlwain, senior fellow for housing at the Urban Land Institute, agrees with Berkus on front porches.
"Going forward, there will be changes in new urbanism, and it will continue to be part of master-planned communities. Some core elements will remain, but characteristics like front porches may become marginal," McIlwain said. "Expect future new urbanism projects to include more rental, high-rises and open spaces, but fewer single-family homes."
Seaside's Davis sees the future this way: "The next push for new urbanism will be in cities on urban renewal land and in the suburbs where former shopping centers will be redeveloped. There will be a lot more projects after the current glut of housing inventory is absorbed."Copyright © 2015, CT Now