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Mt. Laurel revisited

I mentioned recently that I’d received a message asking if my opinion of a previous post. That post focused on Mt. Laurel; the individual asked if my opinions on the development had changed since a post that I put up in August. I figured that the best way to answer was to go out and take a look out there. My opinion has changed… a little.

Pulling into the town on a Saturday afternoon, I still found the first issue that I had with the development quite disturbing. My main concern still lies in its location. They are attempting to deal with some of the immediate needs of its residents as well as the residents of surrounding developments. Signs in windows called for the eventual opening of a grocery store in the coming months. Additional live/work units had also been completed with a church, coffee shop and pizzeria joining the already successful Standard Bistro. It still looked extremely quiet. Driving past their large recreational area, Olmstead Park, I saw something that I’d not seen in my previous visit: people. They were playing basketball, having a game of catch, laying out on the grass enjoying a beautiful late spring afternoon in central Alabama. You saw residents out walking dogs, out for a late morning run, really just living life.

Signs guided me to the next phase of the development, with a sample home open to the public and crews working to complete the first sets for sale. I parked when I noticed an “Open House” sign sitting out in front of one of the few homes that did not have the “private residence” notice in front of it. I would hope that one result of agreeing to live in a development such as this is the notion that you are actually on display. This is where I should note that I was not the only car just traveling through for the day. People were taking advantage of the weather to see what it would be like to live out in Mt. Laurel.

Back to the home…
I entered after walking up the stone stairs leading to the front porch. The entryway was reminiscent of older homes as well as the orientation of public space as you entered. While it was an open house, there was not anyone available to speak with in the home. That was fine by me; this way I could enjoy the study of the property without feeling pressured. The structure was quite impressive: three bedrooms and 2 ½ baths. The layout was more in line with contemporary designs than anything else. For all intensive purposes, the main living space of this home was designed to be off of its kitchen. The island was the size of a large kitchen table with four stools set up on one side. It’s at this point where I realize that this is a home for the 21st century: there is a cable outlet above the counter.

It’s also interesting to note that the “back” entrance to the home was quite elaborate as well. It was set up more for entertaining, though most guests would have to enter from the front. Neighbors and family would most likely use the back. The alleyway contains all of the service amenities, including mailboxes, garbage cans and parking spaces, whether they are garages or carports. If you really wanted to, you would never have to use the front door at all. And in the time I spent driving some of the alleys, I realized that there was another world going on behind the homes; one where children are free to play in the alley without fear of car traffic, garages left open without much fear of crime.

I would not mind trying to create a home in that kind of environment. Especially if children were in the picture, the opportunity to not worry as much for now is great. It is still somewhat disturbing when you must drive at least five miles to get additional services provided, though the recent and potential commercial openings can and do provide some creature comforts without too much traveling. The other projects in the area do not seem to be developing with their neighbor in mind. That still disturbs me as well. When you know or can sense the long range plan for a development, it should at least cause other developers to consider how it will affect or aid their projects. To see the planning applied to Mt. Laurel just cut off by a fence separating you from the subdivision next door it’s a little sad. I also still wonder why some of these projects could not be constructed in existing cities, or applied to current urban situations. That being said, I’m more comfortable with Mt. Laurel now than I was originally. Time will tell whether it will be allowed to provide its goal comfortably or if it will be an anomaly among typical subdivisions constructed in Central Alabama and around the country.

Thoughts? Have a great day!


Published inArchitectureurban issues