The
View from Initialized

Culdesac Re-Imagines What American Neighborhoods Could Look Like in a Post-Car World

Image for post
Photo by Logan Hunt Films

Growing up in the suburbs of the San Francisco Bay Area, it was always puzzling why the region couldn’t transition its sprawling, car-centric communities to something more dense and walkable even as the state’s population grew by 50 percent over the course of my lifetime.

It turns out that this is a nationwide problem. America basically stopped building new walkable neighborhoods almost a century ago.

In the postwar period, this country chose to emphasize highways and personally owned automobiles over mass transit and the single-family home — over multi-family housing, which can support a more diverse range of households.

Over the past generation, however, the walkable neighborhood has become something deeply in demand, as evidenced by skyrocketing rents and housing costs in the limited number of neighborhoods in a handful of cities that offer this kind of living experience.

Ryan Johnson and Jeff Berens founded a company, Culdesac, to bring this kind of neighborhood back. They’re partnering with historically car-centric metros to build new neighborhoods for a post-car world. Their first development in Tempe, Arizona, in the Phoenix metro, just broke ground. Their first neighborhood, a $140 million project that will house roughly 1,000 residents, opens in the fall of next year. Unlike more conventional developments in Phoenix, it features more greenspace, on-site retail including a grocery and coffee shop and no parking except for visiting parking and carshare.

What’s making this possible is that transportation technology has evolved dramatically over the last decade through car-sharing, ride-sharing, bike-sharing and other forms of micromobility. This opens a window for creating neighborhoods anew like the turn-of-the-century walkable ones with ground floor retail that are so prized into today’s housing markets.

Ryan and Jeff are seasoned leaders, with deep experience in both the private and public sector. Ryan was part of the founding team at OpenDoor, another Initialized portfolio company, and previously worked for New York’s MTA. Jeff spent four years managing randomized controlled trials and scaling up a drinking water chlorination technology in East Africa for Innovations for Poverty Action with Nobel Prize winning economist Michael Kremer. He later joined McKinsey’s public and social sector practice.

Not only do they have a deep bench of experience, they also have a longstanding relationship with each other as co-founders who met each other as undergraduates at the University of Arizona. On top of that, they have deep connections to the community where they’re creating their first Culdesac neighborhood, as multi-generational Arizonans.

They’ve partnered with one of Phoenix’s most respected developers, John Graham of Sunbelt Holdings, and with Opticos’ Dan Parolek, who is nationally known in urban planning circles as the creator of the concept of “Missing Middle” housing, on design.

They’ve also built a diverse, cross-functional team that includes software engineers, who are designing new ways of managing mobility and operations people who have cultivated co-housing communities from the ground-up. This team is also nearly 50 percent women.

With today’s launch, we’re excited to see them partner with more cities and communities across the rest of the country to bring back neighborhoods that are more livable and environmentally sound.