Sustainable Community - Village Homes, Davis, California
By David A. Bainbridge
(Former Planner in Davis, VH Resident,
& VH Community Board Member)
United States International College of Business
Alliant International University
San Diego, CA 92131
Village Homes is an innovative mixed use planned unit development that was
started in 1974 on 60 acres in Davis, California. It was designed and
built by developers Michael and Judy Corbett, with help from many others.
It was financed by Sacramento Savings and Loan and building was phased in
over 5 years to allow for careful construction and sustained work for
builders. At build-out it includes 220 single family homes, 20 apartments
and a cooperative house, most incorporating solar design features and
solar hot water. Business space is included in the community center and an
inn was recently completed. There is a comprehensive community center,
with pool, meeting and party rooms, and large playing field. The developer
allowed individual builders to buy lots, although 60% of the homes were
built by the Village Homes company. This added diversity in design and an
opportunity for innovation. Several builders who got their start in
Village Homes were able to build their own homes in the development and
have become major local builders in the community. The developer also
built a home and he and his family have always lived in the community.
The primary focus of the development plan was on community building.
Shared ownership of common areas and common spaces, shared laundry space
for some units, shared gardens, community gardens, community fruit and nut
trees and vineyards, and bicycling (much of the City of Davis commute is
by bicycle) and walking orientation have been very successful in building
community. In a study comparing Village Homes to surrounding contemporary
development (standard suburbia) the residents of the Village Homes
development knew 42 people in their neighborhood, compared to 17 in other
areas. The average resident identifies 4 of their best friends in the
community, compared to 0.4 for people in the conventional development.
This community spirit and people orientation has also virtually eliminated
crime (only 10% of the city average). Density is almost double surrounding
areas, but the quality of life is much higher. This is reflected in
increased home value (a $10-15 per square foot premium) and much quicker
home sales in Village Homes.
Aerial View of Village Homes
The orientation of streets and paths was also designed to facilitate
natural heating and cooling using winter sun for solar heating and shade
and night-time ventilation cooling for relief from the summer heat. This
followed suggestions made by the consulting firm Living Systems in reports
to the City of Davis on the performance of conventional apartments and
homes and an innovative climate adapted building code and workbook (since
supplanted by the much less sophisticated and cumbersome Title 24 state
standards). The original program worked very well and included training
for builders and building officials. Homes are known for improved comfort
and bills average about 50-60% of surrounding developments. The comfort is
also aided by narrow streets which reduce the urban heat island effect.
Energy conservation, comfort and safety are also aided by bicycle and
pedestrian orientation and narrow streets. The fight for narrow streets
was difficult, and succeeded only after Living Systems developed
guidelines for street design for the City of Davis based on European
research showing that narrower streets were safer. Off street parking, a
focus of houses toward the bikeways not the street, and limited through
traffic enabled street width to be cut from 44-52 feet in conventional
developments to 20-26 feet in Village Homes. This also reduces cost,
minimizes overheating during the hot summer, reduces stormwater drainage
problems, and improves the quality of life by minimizing traffic and
The second biggest struggle was over above-ground storm water drainage in
natural looking swales with infiltration basins. This was considered
heretical by the City engineers, but after a long fight it was approved.
It was tested by very heavy rains not long after it was completed and
Village Homes was one of the only areas in the City that didn't flood.
Subsequent developments have added even larger retention basins and
infiltration ponds. On many evenings muskrats, ducks, geese and other
birds can be seen enjoying these park features, and they conserve water
and return it to the groundwater resource for use.
Village Homes demonstrated to all involved that development can work for
people and the environment. It is a lasting tribute to the energy, wisdom
and persistence of the Corbetts. It set a standard for new villages to
match or equal. As the Corbetts say, "We do not view Village Homes as
an ideal. We see it as a step in the right direction." We know much
more know and can and should do much better today.
(Prepared by David Bainbridge and Val Czapelski Okerstrom, Research
Corbett, Judy and Corbett, Michael. 2000. Designing Sustainable
Learning from Village Homes. Island Press,
Washington, D.C. 235 p.
Bainbridge, D.A. 1987. Energy self-reliant neighborhoods. pp. 398-402. In
Andrejko and J. Hayes, eds. 12th Passive Solar
American Section International Solar Energy
Society (ASISES), Boulder,
Corbett, M. 1981. A Better Place to Live. Rodale Press, Emmaus,
Bainbridge, D.A., Corbett, J. and J. Hofacre. 1979. Village Homes' Solar
Designs. Rodale Press, Emmaus, Pennsylvania.
Bainbridge, D.A. 1976. Planning for energy conservation. Living Systems
City of Davis, California, 83 p.
Bainbridge, D.A. 1976. Street design for energy conservation. Living
the City of Davis, California. 19 p.
Melzer, B., M. Hunt, D.A. Bainbridge. 1976. Energy conservation in
workbook. Living Systems for the City of Davis,
Bainbridge, D.A. 1976. Towards an environmental new town. Council of
Libraries Exchange Bibliography #967, 6 p.
Corbett, J. and M. Corbett. 1999. Toward better neighborhood design.
Human Ecology, Michigan State University.