New urbanism: Old-fashioned design in for long run
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.

Small-town character

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."