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Do You Yearn to Retire in a Place That Feels Like a Real Community?

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

January 19, 2015 — In your search for the perfect community, how many of these statements would you agree are your priorities? Would you like to:
– Walk or bike into town instead of going by car
– Live in a real neighborhood
– Have interesting entertainment or eating options nearby

If you checked at least 2 of these statements you might be a candidate for a New Urban Community. They are also sometimes called Traditional Neighborhood Developments (TND). There are a number of these entities across the country – some are totally new, and a few have been here for centuries. These communities feature walkable access to a real town/city center, an environment that encourages social interactions, and plenty of recreational, occupational, and entertainment possibilities. In this article we are going to explain what we mean by New Urban concept, provide a report on your editor’s recent visit to one such community in South Florida (Abacoa), and then provide you with a list of some of the leading TNDs in this country.

What’s in a Name?
For purposes of this article we included communities that we know to be new urban or TND type communities. Obviously there are gradations within “new urban” communities, as there are no New Urban, or TND police out there enforcing standards. Some fit the description exactly, while others go part of the way. Another term that is frequently used in advertising is master planned. While many towns and active adult communities advertise that they are master-planned (we sure hope they have a plan!), that does not always mean that there are shops and a town center are within a 10 minute walk, or that you can avoid driving to access the services you need for everyday living.

Retro Urbanism
New Urbanism is, in our opinion, an oxymoron. “Retro Urbanism” might be a better term. That is because the movement seems more like a return to what towns were like before cars changed everything – it is more like the “new old”. There are plenty of examples of very old American towns that are a perfect example of great urban planning – like Savannah, GA; Washington, D.C.; Venice, FL. The modern new urban design movement, which promotes walkable neighborhoods that contain a range of housing and job types, got going in the 1970s and 80s’. Some of the most famous examples are planned cities like Reston, VA and Columbia, MD. In all of these cases residences and businesses are clustered around parks, shops, and restaurants – making everyday life possible without jumping in and out of cars.

A Visit to one New Urban Community, Abacoa
Your editor spent an afternoon in Abacoa, a New Urban Community in Jupiter, Florida. Having heard about it for years, we looked forward to our visit with great anticipation – and were not disappointed. Here is are some highlights of that visit.

Centrally located
Abacoa is situated immediately east of I 95 and the Florida Turnpike, so it has excellent access to just about everything – beaches, Miami, points north, etc. It has a main campus with the principal attractions easily reached on foot, by bike, and there is ample car parking too.

The concept behind Abacao
The idea behind Abacoa is the opposite of what happens in suburbia. Instead of locating residential neighborhoods far from the center of the community, forcing residents to drive to shop, dine, or find entertainment, in Abacoa everything an active adult could want in conveniently reached in one location. Its many residential developments offer an array of choices including single family, attached, and condos. Most of these communities have amenities such as golf courses, swimming pools, etc. But unlike most active communities, there is a lot more: A University, a Major League Baseball Park for spring training, and a considerable amount of retail. The Abacoa Golf Club is also right in the center of town.

Plenty of shops and restaurants in Abacoa

Driving down the Donald Ross Blvd to Central Avenue and then entering the downtown area on Main Street, one comes into an area with retail shops and restaurants on one side and a giant park on the other. At the main intersection you arrive at the Roger Dean Stadium, spring training home to 2 major league teams, the Miami Marlins and the St. Louis Cardinals. Florida Atlantic University has an extensive campus and green space. The intersection also has the Theatre Green and Town Center Stage, both of which host a continuing area of cultural events.

What was going on a recent visit
We arrived in Abacoa on a rainy afternoon in November. At the Cuban restaurant downtown (excellent cafe con leche) a cluster of women were playing mahjong on the covered deck. Inside some late diners were finishing up a late lunch. Some of the retail stores were looking for new tenants, while others catered to shoppers. A choice of restaurants and bars held a trickle of people.

At the main intersection the gates of Roger Dean Stadium awaited next spring’s influx of Cardinals and Marlins fans, along with those for the 2 minor league teams who call this baseball complex home.

Developments within Abacoa
Abacoa features many choices when it comes to communities. Antigua is a neighborhood that consists of commercially zoned live/work townhouses and residential townhouses, most of which are 2 and 3 stories. Small businesses are on the first floor with apartments above.

The Cambridge community by DiVosta Homes features single family homes and townhomes with neo-Georgian architecture in the heart of Abacoa.

Canterbury Place features a Tuscan and French county inspired styles, with townhomes ranging from 1406 to 2226 sq ft. in a Victorian style. These homes provide a nice location during the nationals or other competing golf championships.

Martinique is a neighborhood of Caribbean-style custom homes and townhouses in the quieter section of Abacoa, but close to the Roger Dean Stadium, dining and shopping. It has a Community Center, Village Green, swimming pool and playground. Homes range from 1,500 square feet to over 4,500 square feet and are priced from the high $200’s.

Somerset features Key West style condos and town homes with front porches and balconies. The condos offer one level living, with town homes having two or three levels. Amenities include a clubhouse, with fitness center business center and library, along with an outdoor heated pool, putting green, volleyball court, playgrounds and picnic areas. Home prices start in the $200’s.

Windsor Park is a newer neighborhood made up of single family homes, carriage homes, and townhouses with 18 different floor plans, and offer lake and garden views. Residents enjoy a community center with activity room, catering kitchen for parties, barbeque area, swimming pool and fire pit. Homes are priced from the high $200’s to the high $600’s.

What People Say, And How the Community Is Going
Property values are strong in Abacoa, so the concept must be working. Recent home listings range from the $100s into the millions of dollars, with the average listing about $450,000. Although a few of the downtown stores were vacant, most were occupied and the restaurants all seemed to be prospering. According to the people we spoke with, Abacoa is a wonderful and unique place to live in South Florida.

Where can you find more New Urban Style Communities
We searched the database of almost 1000 towns and cities looking for ones that we have classified as New Urban. That search produced nearly 25 candidates, many of which are listed below. You can do the same search by going to “Advanced Search” and selecting New Urban as a City criteria (you can also further filter that search by state and other ways). Some of these communities were designed exclusively with retirement in mind, some had little or no thought about retirement living, and some that purposely include 55+ communities along with developments for people of all ages.

Fairhope, AL. This former Utopian community sits on Mobile Bay.

The Village of Providence (Huntsville, AL). A newer community in one of Alabama’s most interesting cities.

Rio Verde, Arizona. This small golfing community is northeast of Scottsdale.

Mission Viejo, California. Located in southern Orange County, it has a population of over 100,000. It is known for its tree-lined neighborhoods.

Nocatee (Ponte Vedra, FL). This community south of Jacksonville combines one million square feet of retail, four million square feet of office and nine public schools in a livable environment.

The Villages (south of Ocala, FL). By now just about everyone has heard about The Villages, the largest active adult community in the world. It sprawls over 3 counties in Central Florida.

Ave Maria (Naples, FL). This brand new community near Fort Myers and Naples has a religious core (Roman Catholic).

Winter Park, FL. This planned community dates back to the 1920s, although it’s design is still contemporary.

Sun City. One of Florida’s oldest and biggest all-inclusive active adult community.

Seaside, FL . Located on Florida’s Northeast coast, Seaside is studied the world over for its combination of beautiful buildings combining a vacation resort with full time living.

Celebration (Orlando, FL). Disney’s entry into New Urban design. It has all the features such as trying to minimize the presence of cars and maximize friendly neighborhoods.
Palm Coast, FL. This giant community in Northeast Florida was originally built by ITT. A car is still a necessity, but there are many neighborhoods to choose from.

Victoria Park, (Deland, FL). This one is near Jacksonville and has communities within the community.

Fleming Island Plantation (Orange Park, FL). The motto of this all-ages community is “Live…Work…Play”.

Port Saint Lucie, Florida. Founded by a corporation and then becoming a city in 1961, Port Saint Lucie now has more than 161,000 residents. It is more master planned than new urban. The NY Mets have spring training here.

Peachtree City, GA. This is one of those communities where the golf cart has pretty much displaced the automobile.

Atlantic Station (Atlanta, GA). New and located just off the city center, this development mixes office buildings with residential and parks.

Columbia, MD. One of the original “modern” New Urban communities, it is completely self-contained.

National Harbor, Maryland. One of the newest New Urban Communities, this planned city across the Potomac from Alexandria it is still in the early stages (founded in 2008). It has hotels, offices, retail stores, restaurants, and nightspots. There are also waterfront condos, a marina and convention center, with more future plans.

New Jersey
Washington Town Station (Robbinsville, NJ). The overall plan includes parks, walking trails and other open public spaces, and welcomes the community at large into its shops, restaurants and residential neighborhoods. Single-family homes, duplexes and townhomes.

North Carolina
Fearrington Village (Chapel Hill, NC). Although most of the folks who live here are 55+, many families do too. It has a CCRC affiliated with Duke, a distinguished book store, plus a 5 star restaurant and inn.

South Carolina
Verdae Village (Greenville, SC). village-style center city community where traditional neighborhoods, specialty shops, cafes, businesses and outdoor recreation are joined together.

The canal in Woodlands

The Woodlands, Texas. Here there is a cluster of 8 master planned villages and a Town Center. There is plenty of good shopping including a shopping mall, restaurants, and activities such as 7 golf courses

Reston, VA. One of the communities from the 70s that made the new urban concept so popular.

For further reference:
Check Out the New Urbanism (Jan Cullinane)
Wikipedia article about New Urbanism
List of Traditional Neighborhood Developments
Use Advanced Search to find more
Frustrated about Finding Your Ideal Community – How About a New Urban Community?

Comments? Have you considered living in a New Urban Community, or visited one. What did you like, or not like about it? Are there some New Urban Communities we have overlooked? Please share your impressions and thoughts in the Comments section below.

Posted by Admin on January 19th, 2015


  1. We lived in Columbia MD and we couldn’t wait to move. There are so many reasons why the model didn’t work there. It is really a stretch to call the community walkable or self contained and the bicycle paths are more recreational rather than functional. We mostly drove everywhere to shop and most everyone there worked in DC or Baltimore (long commutes). The housing stock is old (1970s) and surprisingly expensive. The home owners association rules do not allow for expansion or change. The original plans called for an extensive public transportation system but this never materialized (it included a monorail). The schools lag behind and crime rates are higher than the rest of the County. There are many other issues.

    by Lynn — January 20, 2015

  2. I know Columbia, MD and I agree with Lynn. I’m surprised this was put on the list when it definitely does not meet the criteria. We really have to do our homework now don’t we !

    by Janet — January 20, 2015

  3. I used to live just north of Fearrington Village in NC. It is an attractive area and close to Chapel Hill. I enjoyed walking around it once in awhile. However, you would definitely need a car for things like groceries. Unless you like walking over 3 miles on 15-501 to the grocery store. You need to go into Chapel Hill about 8-10 miles for most things. And if you want a “real” mall…it would be further…but who needs to go to a mall regularly, let along in retirement

    If you want somewhere near Chapel Hill try Carrboro, NC. All of it isn’t walkable, but the section adjacent to Chapel Hill is. Of course, you will find it filled with students, but “regular” people as well. Somebody had to work on campus and at the hospital and live nearby. But less retirement folks.

    by Elaine — January 22, 2015

  4. We visited Nocatee in northern Florida and loved the area but it definitely needs a car or golf cart to travel from the 55+ neighborhood to the town area. Your visiting grandchildren would never leave once they saw the amazing water park in the middle of town! The close proximity to Ponte Vedra beach and Jacksonville for the Mayo Clinic and the super easy airport were also good draws to the area.

    by SandyZ — January 23, 2015

  5. Here is a website for new urbanism communities by state:

    I used to live and work near Columbia, Maryland, and agree – the “new” new urbanism communities are often more walkable than some of the original ones. So, be sure to also check For example, Walkscore shows that Columbia, Maryland has a walkscore of 30; in other words, car-dependent.

    Parts of Baldwin Park, FL (I’ve been to a large number of these new urbanism communities) can be very walkable, but it depends on the location. Some areas of Baldwin Park (near Orlando) have a walkscore of 72 (can accomplish most errands on foot); if you live in other areas of Baldwin Park, you’d generally need a car. This is often true of many of these communities – some areas are more walkable than others. Frequently, if you put in an address it will show the walkscore for that specific address. But, you need to take it with a grain of salt. My house shows a walkscore of 0 (I am in a master-planned community), but I can (and do) ride my bike to Publix (2 miles) as well as a number of informal restaurants near the beach, and can walk to the restaurant that is right on the premises in my community.

    Besides the ideal of walkability, here are some other hallmarks of new urbanism communities: High-density housing, narrow roads to slow traffic, absence of gates, a mix of housing styles that are close to the street, sidewalks, front porches to encourage the meeting and greeting of neighbors, garages accessed via alleys in the back of the homes, and parks and schools integrated in or close by the community.

    This type of community is a good fit for many people. It’s no surprise they are building a lot of them.

    Jan Cullinane, author, The Single Woman’s Guide to Retirement (AARP/Wiley)

    by Jan — January 23, 2015

  6. Jan unfortunately most of the links in your website link does not work. I do not know how old this report is but it seems to be pretty old. I was specifically looking at Charleston, SC.
    We would love to find that sweet spot with decent winter weather and a walkable community. We have listed our home for sale and plan on full timing in our Motorhome for awhile. This will allow us to be able to research areas while staying in that area at the same time.
    Hopefully, we will find what we are looking for.

    Editor’s Note: The TND page looks like a terrific resource; we have never seen so many links to TND communities. Unfortunately there were a couple of bad links, particularly for N. Charleston. Most of the links on the page are quite good (Knowing how difficult it is to keep links up to date when places go in and out of business and others seem to change on a whim, we are sympathetic to their task!)

    by Journey15 — January 24, 2015

  7. Thanks for this article. This is exactly what I am looking for. Would love to see more on the subject.

    by Linda — January 28, 2015

  8. I was disappointed because I thought this would be about actual places that are communities identified for people to live in. I’m not interested at all in living in a retirement community. Any place that has golf carts as a primary mode of transportation is of no interest to me.

    by Brickhorse — January 28, 2015

  9. I retired in December and my Wife and I moved to Big Canoe outside of Jasper, Georgia (after a lot of looking) . All I can say is “There may be as good of places to feel like this -but not too many better”. We are building in these mountains and this place has so much to do. The people are so ‘great’. And gorgeous doesn’t begin to describe it. Really happy with our choice, and it should be considered by anyone wanting a mountain community that is established, debt free and kept looking fresh.

    by Steve — January 28, 2015

  10. I should have mentioned – Big Canoe is a gated community. It does have older folks-but most are pretty sharp and active. I’m 57 and my wife is 55 and we can’t keep up! Someone mentioned walking – the number on amenity is the hiking trails. There are beautiful unpaved “natural” trails, and great blacktoped hiking trails. Small intimate lakes. You drive thru here in the summer, you really cannot see the homes. Anyway-you do the research. We looked in TN, SC -but Northern Ga is great.

    by Steve P. — January 28, 2015

  11. Brickhorse I agree with you. We are not looking for a community of this type either. We are thinking more of the town community also!

    by Virginia — January 29, 2015

  12. Steve or Steve P (same Steve, i’m assuming),
    I’m so glad you mentioned Big Canoe. I have been seriously interested in the community for quite a while and plan to visit in early spring. I love that you said the hiking trails are their number 1 amenity. I love the outdoors and want to be surrounded by nature in my next home. But i do have some questions and concerns i’d like to address to you, if you don’t mind.
    First, does the area and community become a playground for Atlanta folks in the summer? Also, i heard Big Canoe is planning to build a hotel and i see on the website that the Lodge and Swim Club are open to the general public for a fee. How does that affect community life? It seems intrusive. With a hotel you’ll have a constant number of visiting guests. Do you have any feedback or input on that for me?
    Next, i’m wondering about prices. I’d want a relatively new, private, and somewhat smaller home than those i see advertised. Do you know if it’s possible to purchase such a house for under $500,000. (Above my price range, but a nice round figure.) I don’t want to look out onto the golf course.
    I read that the school taxes are not discontinued for those over 65. Is that possible? It seems like more of a state thing than a community thing, but what do i know?
    How do you feel, in general, about the Jasper area? Is it far to get to a supermarket? That’s it for now. I send a HUGE THANK YOU in advance.

    by ella — January 29, 2015

  13. Author seems to make the same mistake developers of these facilities make: All you need is a place to buy golf clothes and a $100/plate restaurant and you’re good. How about a grocery store or a drug store? How about doctors/dentists/optometrists offices? Walking friendly? Really? The main drag is 8 lanes wide plus a median. The average persons house is over 2 miles from even the supposed town center. This is still the same old suburbia- drive your car everywhere.

    by Randall Kelley — April 1, 2016

  14. Steve, can you tell us what the HOA fees are approximately at Big Canoe?

    I would have to agree with Ella on opening the Lodge and swim club to the general public. I vacationed at a very expensive hotel in Puerto Rico years ago and they bussed in kids from local areas to use the pools (Summer camp). There seemed like hundreds of them in the pools. We were on vacation and this really ruined part of our day as we enjoy spending time in the pools. They were there several hours, but every day. To me that is a huge turn off to buy a home and have the general public use the amenities. I would not buy a home in that community if that were to happen.

    by Louise — April 2, 2016

  15. Louise, My husband and i visited Big Canoe this past October. The realtor we dealt with told us that the above is not true. We were only there for several hours and didn’t come away with enough insight to make any kind of a decision. The main rounds are pretty twisty-turny; and we saw drivers driving over the center lane. We still wonder about neighborhood walk-ability as i don’t recall being shown any side streets. We weren’t led to any of the trails within the woods, but saw them only from a car Walking one would have been helpful! We were directed to a hike within the property (7,000 acres), and it was like walking in a state park or forest. There are fewer views than i expected because most of the community is surrounded by woods. The views from the lakes are beautiful. I was a little disappointed by there being no ‘town center’ other than the clubhouse. For some reason, i had been hoping for an outdoor area where people could stroll, sit down at night on benches lit by outdoor lighting, etc. I think it’s nice to have somewhere to go, especially at night, to a place that isn’t a restaurant. I live in suburbia now and that’s sorely lacking; i guess that’s why i had hoped for something different. Perhaps i’m expecting too much!
    Jasper is about 25 minutes away on twisty roads, and my husband and i weren’t impressed with the town; but that’s where you’d go for medical appts., etc. Marble Hill is very close by and has a supermarket. It appears to be more of a shopping area than a town.
    Anyway, if you have any questions i’ll answer anything i can. However, as i stated, my experience is extremely limited. My best to you!

    by ella — April 2, 2016

  16. Ella: Thanks so much for the Big Canoe review. I’ve been toying with the idea of checking it out. My nephew lives in Hoschton, GA (half way between Atlanta and Athens) so GA is one of my “we’ll see” places. Your narrative covers a lot of the things I was concerned about….especially the roads! Another one to cross off the list. I like Athens, but it is a college town which has both positives and negatives (as every place does). In June, I will visit my nephew again and will take a better look at Atlanta and its environs.

    So far, St. Augustine FL is #1 on my list.

    by Stacey — April 2, 2016

  17. Big Canoe. Thanks Steve (P.) I took a look at the Big Canoe website – the homes for sale are amazing! I’d like to hear about the climate year round. Appreciate it.

    by Liz — April 2, 2016

  18. Stacey, Please don’t cross Big Canoe off your list based on what i said about the roads. They are twisty-turny, but wide and not all the areas have a steep drop-off. I don’t know how they’d compare to a town’s county road; may be much less curvy based on the town/area. I think for those of us who want to live in the mountains, this may not be an feature we can avoid.
    I visited St. Augustine almost 50 years ago. Loved it then; but can assume it’s not the same place now. Jan Culliane, the retirement author, lives there in a community. You may want to check her out on that! Wishing you a joyful retirement!

    by ella — April 3, 2016

  19. Hi Ella,

    I live close to St. Augustine but not in St. Augustine. I’m in a master-planned community called Hammock Beach, about a 30-minute drive south of St. Augustine.

    by Jan Cullinane — April 3, 2016

  20. Thanks for the update, Jan. Also for giving me the opportunity to learn how to spell your last name properly!!!

    by ella — April 4, 2016

  21. Will anyone share the expenses of living in or around Panama City Beach, Florida? I read so much conflicting information. I go there look around and it seems very different and MORE expensive than all the thing published on the net..wind insurance, electric, water, home insurance. We do not mind the bugs, snakes, noise and humidity, they don’t cost much.
    This site is wonderful!

    by Lee — April 4, 2016

  22. Realtors can be a wonderful resource, and they are often our first point of contact in a particular place. However, you need to remember that their primary task is to sell a place. Do your homework, see things with your own eyes, and try to talk to people who have no agenda about encouraging you to move to a particular place.

    by Sandie — April 5, 2016

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