Sunday, December 21, 2008

Arkansas New Urbanism

I don't usually blog about where I work, mainly because it seems like a good idea to keep those two worlds separate. But this is a case where my employer, Southwestern Energy, is colliding with one of my interests, urbanism.

A big part of our natural gas production is in Northern Arkansas, in a formation known as the Fayetteville Shale. Our headquarters for this operation is a little town called Conway, about 30 miles north of Little Rock. Conway is a college town (although it does have manufacturing--one of the two main schoolbus factories is located there). It has expanded a lot lately, and I suspect a lot of that expansion has to do with the development of the Fayetteville Shale. My impression was of a place with a lot of standard suburban-style expansion--big box stores, chain stores and restaurants, national hotel chains, all located along major arterials with huge parking lots, well-away from residential areas. Totally anti-pedestrian.

Now this impression was gotten because our offices were in a somewhat remote industrial area, and I stay at a hotel up there that is in one of these new areas. Only once when I drove through the academic area did I see that there was more of a real town there.

Now Southwestern is building a new regional headquarters there. Now typically, I would expect our new headquarters to be similar to new oil company facilities everywhere--which is according to the suburban, car-only concept. But we have decided to build our new regional headquarters in a New Urbanist development.

The name of the development is "The Village at Hendrix" (New Urbanism is quite different from standard development practices, but they still use the same lame naming conventions). It's actually being built by Hendrix College (which is a liberal arts college, not a place where you learn to play guitar behind your back). The designers are Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, whose names are familiar to anyone who knows anything about New Urbanism as the authors of Suburban Nation and the creators of the first New Urbanist town, Seaside, Florida.

So what does this mean for Southwestern Energy? Well, for any employees who buy or rent in the Village at Hendrix, they can probably walk to work. Employees will likely be able to walk to lunch or for errands. Aside from that, not too much. Most folks will still drive to work, some from longish distances. And as far as I can tell, there is no bus system in Conway. (And a New Urbanist development without mass transit is a somewhat crippled thing.)

Still, it's interesting, and I look forward to seeing the new headquarters.

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3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Been there many times, man. Ex-wife's grandmother lived there in the old part of town, four blocks or so from "downtown".

Really, any more, it's hard to tell where Conway starts and North Little Rock leaves off, Conway being right on the interstate.

Nice, quiet, little town, as I recall. Hendrix students - yeah, despite the name, didn't use to do much partying in town - they'd get pretty wild, some of them, when they went back home on weekends, breaks, etc.

Be sure and visit Toad Suck, if you go up there.

jd

2:25 PM  
Blogger Robert Boyd said...

I've only been twice, but I will have to go more often in the future. I've heard Toad Suck is fun (I'd like to check it out just for the name! I was bummed when I discovered Conway was a dry town (with three colleges!), but the dryness seems mostly theoretical. I've been able to "join a private club" for next to nothing whenever I've wanted to have some beers.

5:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gitcha a couple of them Hendrix - or, what is it, I can't for sure remember, UCA?, chicks in the summer, head down to Toad Suck with a couple of cases of beer in the back.

What that Johnny Mathis song was written about. No, not that one. This one, "Unforgettable..."

jd

6:23 PM  

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