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Mayo Woodlands - Innovative Suburban Development?

by David Sturtz

The New York Times yesterday hada story on a new housing development outside Rochester, MN. The Mayo Woodlands sits on property owned by descendents of the founder of Mayo Clinic.

The 120 houses planned for Mayo Woodlands, a 220-acre parcel, will sit among fields, windrows, grasslands and forest near the Zumbro River. Mr. Coen’s design group, Coen & Partners, have decided that, in contrast to Jackson Meadow, the houses at Mayo Woodlands should be boxy and minimalist, with flat metal roofs an abstraction of typical farm buildings.

The photographs and renderings look lovely, but some aspects of the design seem overly self-indulgent to me. The proposed designs call for flat-roofed structures and detached garages. For a project praised for being in-tune with it’s landscape and location these decisions seem a little out-of-touch with the realities of Minnesota’s winters.

However, my major disagreement is with the fundamental delusion this project seems to be operating under. While much effort has been spent to avoid creating cookie-cutter “McMansions,” the solution only puts a modernist facade on the traditional suburban model.

The project’s lead designer (descibed in the Times article as “a landscape architect recognized for using bold minimalism and a deep sensitivity to the land to save family farms from being subdivided into developments rife with winding drives, cul-de-sacs and oversize houses.”) is quoted in a Builder Online article as saying:

If the development is successful, it could be a central part of Rochester’s culture, Coen says.

How is that possible? This area is being created for a few dozen of the community’s wealthier residents to live in. It is a single-use development of single-family homes. As far as I can determine, there are no plans for restaurants, shops, schools, theaters, offices, or museums. Residents have no choice but to pack themselves into their cars in the morning, leave the development to live their lives, and return at night to sleep. To me that creates neither culture nor community.

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