Introducing Culdesac: Building car-free neighborhoods from scratch

Ryan Johnson
Nov 19 · 5 min read

By Ryan Johnson and Jeff Berens

… Maybe it doesn’t have to be this way.

Jeff and I both grew up in Phoenix, were college roommates at U of A, and are proud 3rd (Ryan) and 5th (Jeff) generation Arizonans.

Like most Phoenix residents, our first couple decades were lived mostly through the windshield of a car. Need to go to class? Start up the car. Craving some ice cream? Start up the car. That’s just the way it is.

Phoenix, like many 20th century American cities, is built on the assumption of 1 person = 1 car. The problem with this equation is that cars are exceptionally needy. Each car needs 4 parking spaces along with plenty of roadway to move between them. As a result, >50% of the surface area of car-centric US cities is covered in pavement. In the desert, this means hot sweltering pavement … the “fry an egg on the sidewalk” type of pavement.

Downtown Houston in the 1970s: Mostly parking, some buildings.

The conventional wisdom is that this is just the way it has to be: That once a city becomes car-centric, it has forever locked in its density.

Phoenix is built for cars → Therefore all people have cars → Therefore Phoenix needs to be built for cars.

How do you break that cycle?

Learning some new moves

At Culdesac, we see a way out of this cycle and it starts with transportation. How we move determines how we live, and how we move is changing.

We’re undergoing the first major shift in transportation since the interstate highway system. Private car ownership is giving ground to transportation that is on-demand, shared, and (on average) more environmentally friendly. That 1-mile trip to get ice cream is increasingly happening on shared bikes, electric scooters, or on foot. Lyft Shared and Uber Pool make daily trips more affordable. And there is a renewed interest in public transit investment, including the expansion of the light rail in Phoenix.

People have responded by making different personal choices. In 1983, 46% of 16-year-olds had licenses. Today, it’s just 24%.

Fewer cars, less roadway, far less parking. New possibilities for how we live.

This has people questioning: Why is there a sea of asphalt outside my front door? What would I actually want to see when I walk outside…?

Culdesac Tempe: 1000 people, 0 private cars. Opening Fall 2020.

We’re building the first car-free neighborhood from scratch in the U.S. And we’re proud to say it will be in our hometown. Culdesac Tempe will have 1000 people and 0 private cars. Opening date: Fall 2020.

Breaking ground. Credit: Logan Hunt Film.

Restaurants and shopping will be a short walk, rather than a strip mall miles down the road. Front doors open into leafy shared courtyards, not rows of car tailpipes. Trips to the grocery store for ice cream means pulling out your sandals for a stroll, not pulling out of your driveway into traffic.

Rendering by NBBJ

Prioritizing people ahead of cars unlocks all kinds of design freedom:

  • Instead of covering the neighborhood in pavement, more than half of the land area will be covered in landscaping, public courtyards, and greenery — an unheard of ratio for an urban development.
  • We get to lean way into shared, on-demand mobility. Culdesac Tempe will be a welcoming home for shared bikes and scooters, providing them with dedicated parking spaces and charging infrastructure. Our one small mini-lot will be stocked with hourly rentable car-sharing (think: GetAround, Turo, Zipcar). Dedicated rideshare pick-up zones dot the perimeter of the neighborhood.
  • The 1000-person scale of the neighborhood allows us to think holistically. Here’s one idea we’re excited about: Instead of people having private guest rooms (which don’t actually get used that often), residents can put up friends in bookable guest suites sprinkled throughout the neighborhood.

We are particularly proud to showcase Tempe as a hub of innovation and urban experimentation. Most cities would have tied this up for a decade, but we chose Tempe for its forward-thinking, action-oriented, collaborative reputation. And hey, it doesn’t hurt that the Phoenix Metro led the nation in jobs created this year.

A post-car future for American cities

Culdesac is the first post-car real estate developer in the US. We want to demonstrate a new possibility for formerly car-centric cities.

Unpaving paradise

We believe cities need to lead the way to a more sustainable, healthier, and happier future.

We could bury you in a mountain of evidence spelling out the harms that car-centric development has done to our society — air pollution, more fatalities than all wars combined, time wasted in traffic, environmental degradation, social isolation, cost, etc.

But we suspect you know this already. You just want a real alternative. We want to be that alternative for you.

Interested in living at Culdesac? Or helping bring the next Culdesac your city? Fill out the form below:

Also, shoutout to cities like Denver, Dallas, and Raleigh-Durham: We are looking at you next…

Ryan Johnson

Written by

CEO of Culdesac (hiring). Prev: Founding team @Opendoor. Send me a note at https://www.linkedin.com/in/ryanjohnsonaz/

Culdesac

Culdesac

Culdesac is building the first car-free neighborhoods from scratch in the U.S.

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