What makes living in these suburban lollipops so special — and where in the Valley can we still find them?
Beware the bump-out.
That’s what subdivision developers call those little semi-circle arches of asphalt that bump out like swollen elbows on curved residential streets, shoehorning four or five homes into the space of three while giving the illusion of a half-Knots Landing.
The bump-out may feel a little like a cul-de-sac — the way the PT Cruiser tries to feel like the 1930’s Chrysler Airflow, say, or the Harkins’ chain of Cine Capri-style theaters goes for replicating the air of original Cine Capri. But it’s just not the real deal.
“It’s really not a cul-de-sac,” said Ken Peterson, vice president of sales and marketing for Shea Homes. “Where I’ve seen that the most is in higher-density neighborhoods, where they can fit more homes in using that format.” Today, the traditional “lollipop” cul-de-sac street pattern, where a short residential street dead-ends in a radius around which each home sits on a pie-shaped lot graced with a bigger-than-average back yard, is something of a luxury.
“I see cul-de-sacs used more in private communities, higher-end communities,” said Jim Funk, executive director of the Gainey Ranch Community Association, where he estimates there are about 30 cul-de-sacs — many with landscaped center islands. “Only because it’s usually more economical to just put the streets in a grid and line the homes straight up and down the street.”
“Whenever we have a cul-de-sac home, we normally charge a heavier premium, because of several things,” explained Sandra Wilken, a Valley real estate broker who, in her 37 years in the business, has represented properties at Gainey Ranch, The Phoenician and throughout the Biltmore area. “It’s at the end of a street, it’s always more private, more quiet, fewer cars, and a usually the lots are a little bit larger.”
Wilken said cul-de-sac lots are often “high on the wish list” of most homebuyers she deals with — particularly those from the east coast, where the American cul-de-sac, first spotted in Radburn, New Jersey in 1928, had its origins.
Lately, however, faced with growing criticism from “smart growth” advocates and anti-sprawl activists who see the cul-de-sac as endemic of the isolated, disconnected state of today’s suburbs, the lollipop has been getting a licking. In 2009, Virginia became the first state to severely limit cul-de-sacs in future developments, refusing road services to subdivisions that fail to comply. Since then, cities such as Portland, Charlotte and Austin have proposed similar restrictions. Even the cul-de-sac’s greatest asset — the safety it provides kids at play from outside traffic — has been challenged: new studies show cul-de-sacs’ spoke-wheel driveways are prime spots for “backovers,” which actually account for over a third of all non-traffic vehicular fatalities among children under 15.
Fortunately for fans of the round street square, which proponents tout as a center of neighborhood social interaction, there are still plenty of old-school cul-de-sacs in the Valley. Ahwatukee is sometimes referred to as the “world’s largest cul-de-sac,” as the whole town is somewhat geographically isolated from the rest of the metropolis. And fittingly, there are dozens of cul-de-sacs along the streets in Ahwatukee that back up to South Mountain. But there are also still plenty of lollipop-shaped streets in the older neighborhoods off north Central Ave., throughout the Arcadia district and all around Paradise Valley.
In newer developments, though, looking for cul-de-sacs may have you driving in circles. “Communities today are more designed with a minor arterial street that feeds into the neighborhood and then a looped road that runs through it,” said Peterson. “But on the turns of that loop, you’re still getting these pie-shaped home lots.”
It may not be Knots Landing, but at least, for cul-de-sac fans, it’s not the end of the road.