Wednesday, June 3, 2009


In the exurbs of America there are hundreds of housing developments built around professional fairways. Many residents own their own golf carts, park them in their two to four-car garages, and drive them from their homes directly to the clubhouse. Golf course living has grown so much in popularity that, as a development type, it is now found in almost every big city in this country. One will find a conglomerate of suburban ranch houses surrounding a well designed 18-hole course in the mountains of Oregon, in the Great Lakes, in rural Massachusetts, in New Orleans, in suburban Atlanta, or in the center of some of the most infamous retirement communities in the State of Florida.

According to the Environmental Institute for Golf, at an individual level, an average 18-hole golf course covers 150 acres –with approximately 100 occupied by turfgrass; on an aggregate basis, golf courses cover an estimated 2,244,512 acres of land of which 67% is defined as greens, tees, fairways, rough, driving ranges, practice areas, nurseries and clubhouse grounds (also covered by turfgrass), and 33% accounts for water bodies, buildings, bunkers and parking lots.

This vast amount of turfgrass is not considered natural open space and does not come for free; its maintenance requires substantial water irrigation, pesticides, the use of powerful nutrients and chemicals, and several compromising environmental practices; because it is turning into one of the most serious environmental problems in suburban America, we must pay careful attention before it becomes yet another case for the abandonment of “petro-suburbia”.

The project here presented is a proposal for a substantial retrofit of a golf course community in the State of Florida. It includes the redevelopment of the golf surface occupied by the first 9 holes -as a complete community where one could find everything needed for daily-living at walking distance, and the reconstruction of the remaining 75 acres as a Community Sponsored Agriculture project including programmatic elements common to what Andres Duany has been calling “Agricultural New Urbanism” –an organic market, a school of culinary arts and a community kitchen. One of the virtues of this type of retrofit is the manipulation of an underutilized suburban area with serious environmental problems as a dual urban/rural concept in the midst of a retirement community.

The small development includes 8 live/work units, 108 apartments, 55 liner buildings, 236 townhomes, and 94 detached houses. Additionally, its picturesque vernacular arrangement and building placement affords termination of vistas in important civic structures including: a farmer’s market, a sub-police station, a meeting hall, and other buildings of greater beauty and urban presence. The paving, channeling, storage and filtration are designed to comply with Light Imprint (LI) standards as presented by Tom Low in his “Light Imprint Handbook”. While each family contributes to the general welfare and sustainability of the community (with self-sufficient urbanism devices like solar panels, water harvesters, vegetable gardens, compost bins, and more), there are also additional communal services which benefit those whose environmental commitment is limited and less aggressive i.e.: community sponsored agriculture co-ops, solar farms, water recycling projects, etc.

This type of project proves, once again, that the reconstitution of American suburbia must and should become one of the most important sustainable projects of our post-peak-oil future. Let’s open ourselves to the possibilities of developing and transforming the existing urban/suburban/rural infrastructure of America as the most important healing project of our generation.

It is not a matter of will.

It is a matter of time!