2012-02-02

Co.Exist

Piscataquis Village: Building A Car-Free Utopia In The U.S.

Can America import the idea of small, car-free villages from Europe? One determined banker in rural Maine is going to find out.

It’s not hard to rattle off a list of towns and cities in Europe--Sienna, Bruges, Venice, to name a few--where cars are either banned or restricted. That’s not the case in the U.S., however, where car culture still reigns supreme. Tracy Gayton, a former banker living in Maine, thinks that the country (or at least a small part of it) might be ready to embrace the car-free lifestyle. So he’s attempting to raise $2 million to build Piscataquis Village, a 125-acre development in rural Maine that is completely car-free (with the exception of car parks right outside the village lines).

Tracy Gayton isn’t a typical banker. After hiking the Appalachian Trail in the early 1980s, he settled in Piscataquis County, a rural area of Maine, in the hopes of building a home in the woods. But Gayton ran out of money and took a job at a bank, where he eventually became branch manager. After retiring, Gayton started thinking seriously about Piscataquis Village, an idea that he had been kicking around for years.

Gayton has spent time fleshing out the project for the past two years. He has managed to collect $280,000 in commitments from contingent investors, who will only pay up when the full $2 million has been raised (a la Kickstarter). Almost all of the investors either live in Piscataquis County or have family ties in the area.

The village will be built with six key design elements in mind: small plazas, narrow streets that are designed for pedestrians, attached buildings, arcaded sidewalks (to ensure that sidewalks stay rain- and snow-free), interior courtyards, and of course, car-free streets. Pedestrians will be able to traverse the whole village in 10 minutes.

"What we’re really trying to capitalize on more than anything else are the advantages you get when you construct a human habitation that’s very compact," explains Gayton. "It’s large and dense enough to have a basic economy yet you want it small enough that it’s walkable. This is, he says, different from the way many people live in rural Maine, where people often live miles from a town center.

When I ask Gayton if there are regulatory hurdles that the village will have to overcome, he laughs. "There are regulatory hurdles for a project like this anywhere in the U.S.," he says. "But in some ways rural Maine might have less than many. There’s a respect for property rights and populations are small. Basically, we’ve got a simple, common sense kind of project."

Still, Gayton expects to deal with regulatory issues surrounding street width, minimum lot sizes, ordinances that require a certain amount of parking spaces outside commercial properties, and more. These issues can be overcome in a sparsely populated area with land to spare, but getting something like Piscataquis Village off the ground in denser areas in the U.S. would prove incredibly difficult, if not impossible.

Says Gayton: "Unfortunately, nobody has written How to Build a Village for Dummies yet."

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10 Comments

  • Dandantherabbiman

    Interesting idea. Yet why Piscataquis? It is so far from any major economic center in the state, th closest is Bangor I believe. Why not build it closer to a major economic area so that a commute to work wouldn't be an hour everyday. That would cut car costs even further.

  • Jbrooksmeister

    Check out Creating Cohousing by Charles Durrett and Katie McCamant, or even better, just contact their architectural office, they've been doing projects similar to this for decades.

  • barb81

    Interesting....where in Piscataquis, will this "utopia" be built? Has it been specified yet? 

  • Bruno De Oliveira Júlio

    Nice photos from a small Portuguese Village, maybe in the Algarve or Alentejo regions!?