In the small town just a train ride from downtown Phoenix, residents of a place called Culdesac in Arizona are one of the first non-urban communities in the US to boast a walkable, car-free neighborhood.
Walking down the streets of the $170 million, 17-acre community, which in reality is more like a large campus within the city of Tempe, residents don’t notice parking lots among the white Mediterranean-style units. Instead, the houses are mixed with courtyards for social gatherings, grocery stores, restaurants and yoga studios. For Culdesac residents, they have everything they need for their economic, physical and social well-being within walking distance.
About 92% of American households in 2021 owned at least one car. Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas pollution in the US, accounting for 28% of total pollution in 2021. Greenhouse gases come primarily from burning fossil fuels.
While the production of electric vehicles is growing and aims to be the main form of transportation in the future – S&P Global Mobility predicts that electric vehicle sales will account for 40% of all passenger vehicle sales by 2030 – EVs do not address the demand high for the lithium mining needed for EVs and the underlying effect of car-centric communities in the US
Culdesac aims to eliminate the harmful effects of cars on the environment with climate-friendly housing, while reuniting communities outside the home and workplace.
“Today in the U.S. we only build two types of housing: single-family homes that are single and have a painful commute, or we build these mid-rise projects with dual corridors,” said Ryan Johnson, co-founder of Culdesac. alongside Jeff Berens. Johnson’s enthusiasm for the car-free neighborhood came from living and traveling in places that focus on walking: “We can successfully build walkable neighborhoods in the U.S. in [the] 2020.”
The development began in 2019 and has seen its first residents move in and experience the lifestyle in 2023. “For some, cars equal freedom, but for me, it’s a limitation,” Vanessa Fox, a 32 -year resident of Culdesac. said. “Freedom is being able to get out and into places.”
The developers hope to have about 1,000 people living in Culdesac by 2025, when their 760 units are completed. The first 200 residents will receive ebikes.
“We look back on college nostalgically because it’s the only time most people have lived in a walkable neighborhood,” Johnson says. “People are happier and healthier, even wealthier, when they live in a walkable neighborhood.”
Today, urban metropolises mark the only places for walkable communities. But even these cities rely on cars for transportation and are not fully accessible to residents in non-urban settings, such as the Blue Hills Reservation outside of Boston, which is just minutes from downtown but still out of reach for many residents.
Countries around the globe are looking for ways to eliminate cars. For example, Wales is stopping new road projects in a bid to go carbon neutral. Culdesac is a glimpse into the future of 15-minute cities, putting people at the center of transportation and creating a sustainable environment.
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