Row houses popping up in suburban downtowns

For the last twenty years or so, condos or luxury apartments have been constructed in numerous suburban downtowns in the Chicago region. The communities may have now moved on to row houses:

What’s in vogue now, at least in upscale living, might just be the row house, say developers of a six-unit project called Charleston Row.

These $1.1 million to $1.3 million row houses will have two or three bedrooms, two- or three-car garages, 3½ or 4½ bathrooms, a basement, a large mudroom, not one but two rooftop terraces and even their own private elevator…

After years of building new homes on the sites of teardowns in Wheaton, Glen Ellyn and Naperville, Charleston leaders said they started hearing a new trend. They noticed a desire for something other than the 5,000-square-foot luxury house, standing on its own with a good-sized yard in a subdivision on the outskirts of suburbia.

What these buyers want instead, Van Someren said, is what Charleston Row offers: convenience to a downtown with dining, night life and shops, a low-maintenance lifestyle without a massive lawn to mow, and luxury features such as custom staircases and tile work, hardwood floors, a butler’s station, a breakfast nook and countertops made of granite, marble or quartz. The fancy stuff.

In addition to the factors cited above, I wonder if a few other forces are also at work here:

  1. Row houses may connote a more luxurious or trendy setting than condos or single-family homes. One of the examples cited in the article suggests this: row houses may inspire images of similar higher-end dwellings in London. (On the flip side, these row homes do not remind suburbanites of the row houses in poor neighborhoods such as depicted in Baltimore on The Wire.)
  2. Row houses offer similarities to single-family homes but with densities that builders, suburbs, and opponents of suburban sprawl can appreciate. Builders would like them because they can fit more (expensive) homes on the same amount of land. Suburbs like them for similar reasons; the housing is contained in attractive locations. (I’m guessing not too many suburbs want block after block of these row houses – that would be too monotonous.) For those who dislike sprawl, these might be symbols of denser suburban housing that is ultimately better than continuing to build new subdivisions way on the suburban fringe. (At the same time, such row homes are often not cheap and are not within the reach of most suburbanites, continuing to push them further out.)

We’ll see how long these continue to attractive to the parties cited above.

Photography of the last row houses standing

A photographer has put together a series of row houses that now stand alone in urban neighborhoods:

For German-born photographer Ben Marcin, the plucky row houses left standing in cities on America’s Eastern Seaboard—so-called “nail houses” that are the leavings of gentrification, unrealized developments, and stubborn homeowners—are the kind of domestic oddity that his shutter snapping. Why? “Many details that might not be noticed in a homogenous row of twenty attached row houses become apparent when everything else has been torn down. And then there’s the lingering question of why a single row house was allowed to remain upright. Still retaining traces of its former glory, the last house standing is often still occupied.” The shot above is in Baltimore, but others in his Last House Standing series sit in Philadelphia and Camden, N.J.

If I had to guess at what these photos are about, they are meant to invoke communities that have been lost. This is similar to all the photos coming out of Detroit in the past few years; the buildings themselves aren’t the focus but rather the sad state in which the current buildings are in.

I’m trying to picture what form a similar picture might take for a suburban subdivision. Simply showing one house all lonely at the end of an otherwise empty cul-de-sac might work. But, the beauty of the row house photos is that all these houses together formed a single unit whereas single-family homes already stand alone. Perhaps a middle unit suburban townhouse might do?