Out of Control Policy Blog

'New Ruralism' Hits the Market

Looks like new urbanism has some competition: new ruralism...

    [The St. Joe Company], Florida's largest private landowner, is pushing "new ruralism," a concept it hopes will entice city and suburban dwellers who are weary of civilization and long to own a tractor, a pickup truck, or at least a kayak and a few large dogs.

    At developments called RiverCamps, where homes in a design proudly called "Cracker Modern" will sit on lots of up to four acres lots near marshes, creeks and conservation areas, "camp masters" will tutor residents in bird watching and flats fishing and organize "owl prowls" and "star parties." At WhiteFence Farms, on 5- to 20-acre lots near fields and ponds, "farmhands" will gas up an owner's tractor and help mow the meadow. A third category, Florida Ranches, will have up to 150 acres and cater to hunters.

    Recent sales of RiverCamps on Crooked Creek, the first project under way, average $342,900 for the land alone. Projects farther inland will most likely cost far less per acre.

    The idea is a corporate reinvention of new urbanism, an antisprawl movement that advocates compact, old-fashioned towns where residents can commune in parks, shops and restaurants within walking distance of their homes. Instead of connecting with neighbors, new ruralism promotes connecting with the land - though these cabins in the woods come with wireless Internet access and porches with screens that unfurl by remote control.

    The target market is people 42 to 60 who, tired of coastal hurricane threats or the beach scene in general, want something more like Walden Pond or Walton's Mountain. Most are expected to use these ranches, camps and farms as second homes, though a surprising number of prospective buyers want full-time rusticity, St. Joe executives said.

One new rural homebuyer explains the market appeal:

    Deborah Dudley, a lawyer who is trading her home in nearby Rosemary Beach for one here at RiverCamps on Crooked Creek, said beach towns had grown too crowded with commercial distractions.

    "You lose the whole basic feel of the land," Ms. Dudley said. "I don't want to use the word 'backwater,' that sounds too negative, but RiverCamps has this whole underpinning of past Florida - a rural history."

    Ms. Dudley said she wanted to emulate Florida's early rural settlers, known as crackers, who, wrote a British traveler in 1857, "lived among the pines, raised a few hogs and cows, grew a little patch of corn, and just barely survived." Yet Ms. Dudley said she also expected the comforts that cracker settlers sorely lacked.

    "Absolutely I want that privacy and those woods," she said. "Yet at the same time, I want to be able to invite a neighbor over for a glass of wine and I want a nice kitchen with a Sub-Zero refrigerator."

Is this a great country or what?

Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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