The literature on Village Homes is almost unanimous in praise.

“What a joy it has been to live in a place where I can practice at home what I teach at the university: less energy expenditure, more water conservation, more community, less driving, more bike riding, less alienation and loneliness, more kids’ play, more interaction with neighbors.  Each of us, it seems, longs to live in a manner that reconciles our deepest inner convictions with external reality.”
– Robert Thayer, FASLA, Village Homes resident since 1976, Professor Emeritus of Landscape Architecture, UC Davis 

v. New Urbanism   

Several of the design elements considered fundamental to New Urbanist projects (often touted as walkable and neighborhood-based with a mix of uses) are absent in Village Homes.  For example, at Village Homes most houses lack front porches, and front doors are often hidden at the side (the developers could not decide if the front door should face the street or the common areas so they compromised and placed then on the sides of houses).  While New Urbanism often promotes pubic spaces such as formal parks and pedestrian streets, Village Homes’ focus is much more shared community spaces, including common areas, gardens, and an integrated network of pedestrian paths, green space, and natural drainage areas. (Francis 2003, 12)

Clare Cooper Marcus, a professor in the Departments of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at UC Berkeley, was the first to write about the similarities and differences between Village Homes and New Urbanist development in her article, “Looking back at Village Homes: Has New Urbanism Thrown the Baby Out with the Bathwater?”  She writes:

“The design of this highly successful community breaks many of the rules popularized by the proponents of New Urbanism. First of all, it eschews the grid and provides access to houses via long, narrow cul-de-sacs—those ‘lollipops’ of 1950s suburbia much hated by proponents of New Urbanism. The green-shaded, narrow, dead-end streets save money on infrastructure, use less land, reduce urban runoff, keep the neighborhood cooler in summer, and create a quiet and safe public area where neighbors meet and children play” (Marcus 2000, 128).

Additional information on New Urbanism:


When interviewed for the Landscape Architecture Foundation’s Village Homes case study, Mike Corbett noted that Village Homes could be three times as dense and still have the same amount of green space.

With urban population rising in proportion to non-urban population globally, the degree to which Village Homes’ suburban ecological successes can be implemented at higher densities is an important question to consider. Is what one classmate termed “eco-sprawl” a truly sustainable option?  At the heart of this question is the conviction that a key component of “living lightly on the land” (one of the Corbetts’ guiding principles) is living compactly on the land.  A hodge-podge collection of horizontally sprawling Village Homes clones is not the solution.  This writer’s instinct is to suggest that the ecological benefits realized at Village Homes are in fact achievable at higher densities, though the form and “nature” of certain features necessarily would change, with solutions becoming more engineered as the context became more urban.  This is to say, in general, the denser the built environment, the more highly engineered the ecological solution. 


When it was built, Village Homes’ housing prices were comparable to those elsewhere in Davis.  On a per square foot basis, Village Homes has become the most expensive neighborhood in Davis in which to purchase a house (in 2000).  The desirability of the neighborhood likely has much to do with the phenomenon.  Understandably, rising prices have led to demographic changes in the neighborhood’s second generation.  Houses are being purchased by families wealthier than the original owners, and many are being expanded or remodeled. 

Original sale price/unit

$31,000 - $75,000

2000 sale price/unit

$150,000 - $450,000

(table source: Francis 2003, 9)

It is uncertain how successful Village Homes will be in maintaining its original intentions as it begins a second generation with new inhabitants.  Community involvement has become more difficult to sustain.  Reportedly, homeowners association meetings are under-attended and care for community agricultural areas has progressively fallen more and more into the hands of hired gardeners.  To what extent are new residents in Village Homes committed to the sustainable principles upon which the community was based, committed to “living lightly on the land?”


Looking toward the future, it is fair to ask whether the sustainability principles embodied in Village Homes can be advanced, but with more consideration for connectivity.  While pedestrian paths connect the development to its neighbors, Village Homes’ cul-de-sac streets preclude automobile connection.  Cul-de-sacs at Village Homes have successfully yielded clear community benefits.  But despite the admirable pedestrian focus this design embodies, the proliferation of cul-de-sac-centric, automotively insular subdivisions is imaginably problematic.  It is possible that Village Homes could have realized similar traffic calming and community benefits through more innovative means.  Intuitive review of an aerial photograph leads one to question the isolation of Village Homes.  Especially notable are the abutting cul-de-sacs at Village Homes’ western boundary.  At least in this view, the dislocation of Village Homes from its neighbors renders the project an island of ecology, providing limited physical impetus for continuation of ecologically-minded development beyond its edges and into surrounding areas.   


Much of the literature on Village Homes reflects on the reasons it has not been replicated wholesale in the United States.  Among the discussed explanations are potential risk for the developer, requirements for higher density development (as is the case in Davis), conflicts with public works officials over drainage and roads, or concerns about additional development costs. 

Rob Thayer, after acknowledging that Village Homes resulted from a convergence of the right people, the right place, the right time, and the right economic and political conditions,” goes on to provide a concise explanation of the persistence of our sprawling suburban development patterns:

“Traditional land development patterns, although often insensitive to ecological systems and long-term environmental effects, have worked well enough to respond to short-term market demands, meet basic and immediate public needs, and provide steady profitability for developers. Change involves risk that most people are not willing to take.  We have based our communities on automotive technology, cheap energy, and resource waste for so long that change toward sustainability requires the major readjustment of most of our social institutions.” (Thayer 293-4)

In 1983, shortly after development of Village Homes concluded, Mike Corbett reflected on the importance of the project:

“We do not view Village Homes as an ideal.  We see it as a practical step in the right direction.  Just as the houses and the quality of life within Village Homes have been improved…we hope that future developments will be improved to become largely self-sufficient neighborhood.  Most of the necessary techniques, equipment, and knowledge is now available to do this.  The challenge is to combine these many simple, practical, and economical steps so they work together.”  (Francis 2003, 81)

The following are noted as “comparable” developments in Village Homes: A Community by Design and may be appropriate for further research/comparison.
The Woodlands, Texas (,_Texas)
Prairie Crossing, Illinois (
Coffee Creek, Indiana (
Haymount, Virginia (
Civano, Arizona (