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American Society of Landscape Architects


October 2004 Issue

Selling Sustainable Development
This Indiana subdivision is a model of ecological design. So why are sales so sluggish?

Selling Sustainable Development Courtesy Conservation Design Forum

By Adam Regn Arvidson, ASLA

When rain falls in Porter County, Indiana, it eventually finds its way to Lake Michigan. Historically it has done this through the ground, infiltrating the earth and eventually seeping into local creeks, fens, wetlands, and lakes. But this county in northwestern Indiana, a complex and fragile patchwork of dune-sculpted ecosystems, is becoming increasingly developed and increasingly impervious, forcing rain overland. Coffee Creek, a pretty little stream, meanders its way across the landscape here, running up through Chesterton, Indiana, a town of 10,000 justifiably proud of its compact, pedestrian-friendly layout and a string of summer festivals.

Just south of town, in 1996, Lake Erie Land Company (LEL) acquired 700 acres along the creek and began work on a mixed-use development designed for 3,000 units of housing and almost 4 million square feet of office and retail space. A lot of rain falls on 700 acres, ensuring that the development could irreversibly disrupt the waterway, its associated ecosystems, and the hydrology of the entire region. Fortunately, while LEL's primary goal was regional economic development, it took a shine to little Coffee Creek and decided to do something different. "We wanted to see what it looks like when you mix the New Urbanist and the environmental at very deep levels," says Kevin Warren, director of land development for LEL.

Though still in its infancy, the development has already been hailed as a resounding success, garnering a broad range of media exposure, including articles in House Beautiful, This Old House, Metropolitan Home, Conservation Voices, and Time; inclusion in a PBS documentary; and selection by the Urban Land Institute as one of its "Great Planned Communities."

The reason for all this praise is the development's strict adherence to sound ecological, technological, and traditional town planning principles. Garnering less attention, however, are two outcomes that are sure to establish this development as an ongoing case study: the remarkable design success of the central open space (not just ecologically but also aesthetically) and the unexpectedly slow sales of the properties in the development.

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