Week of June 18, 2001
  Editor's Choice Web Pick
Click to visit NTBA.net NTBA Site Links 'New Economy Towns'
By JACK LYNESite Selection Executive Editor of Interactive Publishing

Many of real estate's long-held rules have clearly been remade by huge shifts in the economy, the work force and technology. The definition of where people work, for example, has ballooned far, far beyond the once sacrosanct walls of "the office," blurring the lines that once divided work and play virtually beyond recognition. Concurrently, the explosion in the power of information technology has exponentially expanded the geographic possibilities for business operations.
        Just such changes are what are behind the Web site for the nonprofit National Town Builders Assn. (NTBA at www.ntba.net). In addition, the site offers perhaps a faint glimmer of the direction in which such changes are moving. The NTBA describes itself as "a trade association representing the business interests of the town building industry and the real estate needs of the New Economy."
        Why is there an NTBA, you ask?
        The answer, according to this site: "Quite simply, the existing infrastructure of our communities has become obsolete in the minds of the consumer, the resident and the employee, who are seeking balance, flexibility and choice in their lives."
        For many, that statement rings true. You can see such dissatisfaction with the status quo in the flotilla of descriptive terms that have been launched to describe the growing ranks of planned communities: "smart growth," "traditional neighborhood development," "transit-oriented development," "the new urbanism," "neo-traditional communities," "walkable towns," "sustainable communities," "urban villages" and "new economy towns."
        The NTBA embraces all those terms, and that inclusive approach has attracted some notable allies. The association's advisors, for example, include Carnegie Mellon University, the Milken Institute, the National Governors Assn. and the Institute for the Study of Distributed Work.

OK, Build It, but They Won't Necessarily Come

Neil Takemoto, the NTBA's executive director, describes the work-force demands that are driving this Web site.
        "Today's knowledge workers want the flexibility to work either at home, in local cafés or at neighborhood satellite offices, possibly all in the same day," Takemoto said. "Socializing and nightlife are a priority, and they seem to be resisting the isolated office park lifestyles of their baby boomer parents."
        Put another way, you don't build it anymore with any reasonable expectation that they will slavishly come. Increasingly, skilled people first decide where they want to live, and only then for whom they'll work. That's just what's pushing the ad hoc development of work-live communities such as San Francisco's SOMA.
        But this site will likely be of major benefit only to those who directly work in new-wave towns' evolution. Still, there are some things here with potential value for the rest of us who want to track the trend.
        This site, for example, attempts to fill a noticeable void by defining what the NTBA, at least, sees as the central characteristics of a "new economy town." That definition is onsite in a click-off to an Adobe Acrobat file link labeled "What Is a Work/Live Balanced Town?" (a.k.a. "What Is a New Economy Town," the name given the same file on a different part of the site).

Links to 50 NTBA-Member Projects

AbacoaThe site also includes links to the 50 developments that have thus far joined the NTBA. Those projects cover 21 U.S. states and one Canadian province, Alberta.
        Some of the projects you'll find online are smack dab in the middle of urban areas; others are in more remote locales. All, though, seem to reflect the association's avowed goal: "establishing the town building industry as a choice, promoting the policies and programs that allow the development of communities with a higher quality of life."
        Much of ntba.net's most useful information is grouped under the "Program Playbook" option, found in the site's "New Economy Towns" section.
ABOVE: The entrance to Abacoa Center, a live/work community and NTBA-member project near Jupiter, Fla.

        Open to members and non-members alike, that playbook includes diagrammed depictions of the NTBA's programs for implementation, economic development and network structuring. That site section also includes listings of NTBA's Board of Directors and "new economy town developers," plus related players in construction and finance.
        As you might expect, the site's big payoffs are (rightfully) reserved for NTBA members. Member benefits include presenting proposed projects' needs "to potential business contacts in our closed professional e-marketplace." Members also get password-protected access to e-mail discussions and the site's "indexed knowledge archive."

Place More Important than Ever

Judging from the number of players online here, the NTBA is still a rather small organization.
        This corner, at least, wouldn't be surprised if it gets considerably bigger. Carnegie Mellon professor and NTBA advisor Richard Florida describes the catalyst for such an expansion.
        "The greatest shift in history has been from a mass production-based economy to a knowledge-based economy," Florida explained. "Knowledge workers don't believe money is enough. They like to mix fun with work, in close proximity to outside activities and recreation."
        That's the other side of the diffusive power of information technology.
        Said Joel Kotkin, author of The New Geography, "We used to say the Internet was going to make us a placeless society, but the irony of the new geography is that the Internet makes place more important than ever."



©2001 Conway Data, Inc. All rights reserved. Data is from many sources and is not warranted to be accurate or current.