A San Francisco-based developer aims to create the country’s first car-free community in Tempe, Arizona, from the ground up. Culdesac, which bills itself as the world’s first post-car real estate developer, is building a 1,000-person neighborhood called Culdesac Tempe. 

In a car-centric society, the implications for this ambitious vision are far-reaching. Culdesac intends to establish a vibrant people-focused neighborhood and lead the way for the future of planning for urban communities. Culdesac Tempe has been conceived as a pedestrian community with a strong sense of place that lives like a close-knit neighborhood village rather than a series of unrelated apartment buildings lined up in a row.

In addition to quality of life and opportunities for meaningful social interaction, sustainability is critical to Culdesac Tempe. Residents’ personal cars will be banned from being driven or parked on site, although the neighborhood will accommodate parking for visitors and car-based modes of transportation such as ridesharing. 

In typical developments, parking lots often dictate the design. Without this constraint, Culdesac says it will be able to offer three times the average amount of green space along with courtyards and community spaces.

Construction started this month, and the $140 million, 16-acre development is set to open in fall 2020 with 636 apartments and 24,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space. Culdesac Tempe will be centered around the mobility needs of residents with an on-site light rail station, a connective shuttle bus, dedicated rideshare pick-up zones, scooters with respective parking and car sharing for off-site transportation.

Founded in 2018 by former Opendoor founding team member Ryan Johnson and economic development specialist Jeff Berens, Culdesac has raised $10 million in venture capital funding to invest into its corporate operations led by Khosla Ventures, Initialized Capital, Zigg Capital, Bessemer Venture Partners and Y Combinator. 

A core belief of Culdesac is “the way we move defines the way we live. And the way we move is changing fast, with countless ways to get around today beyond private cars.” The firm believes real estate innovation has failed to keep up with fast-paced changes in mobility, pointing out that transportation has evolved beyond car dependency, but real estate has not. 

“The communities we are living in were optimized for the peak car era,” said Johnson, Culdesac’s chief executive, explaining that “Culdesac is building spaces for the post-car era. Starting next year, residents of Culdesac Tempe will be able to live life from their doorsteps rather than seeing it through their windshields.”

Culdesac eyes assembling enough parcels to support a clearly defined neighborhood. The goal is to create a model for mixed-use urban redevelopment that integrates innovation, shared mobility infrastructure, a seamless technology layer, creativity, recreation and opportunities for meaningful social interaction and sustainability.

Because less land is needed to park vehicles, Culdesac Tempe will include a grocery store, coffee shop, co-working space, market hall and other retail amenities in addition to the rental apartments. To help bring this vision to life, the Culdesac team is working closely with architect Dan Parolek, who popularized the term missing middle housing, a concept for diverse housing options to create sustainable and walkable places.

The Tempe site was chosen for the first car-free neighborhood because of the city’s thriving job market, growing population and land available directly on a light rail station. Additionally, Culdesac said local leadership has a reputation for being innovative, forward-thinking and action-oriented. Culdesac is evaluating locations for additional projects, including metros such as Dallas, Denver and Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina.

“Because the power of transportation innovation is larger at scale, we’re considering 50 to 100 acre sites for our next project,” said Berens, Culdesac’s cofounder and chief operating officer, adding that “people are ready to leave their cars behind for the walkable and vibrant lifestyle that comes from living in a car-free neighborhood.”

Kris Baxter-Ging, public information officer for the City of Tempe, said Tempe’s transportation infrastructure plays an important role in its quality of life.

“We are the only area city with border-to-border light rail that connects directly to terminals at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport,” she said. “We have free neighborhood buses that can be hailed almost anywhere on their routes. And we have rentable dockless scooters and bikes as well as Uber and Lyft pick-up stations.”

Baxter-Ging added that Tempe has more than 200 miles of bike paths, including many that are not on busy streets. An upcoming addition to the Tempe transit landscape, a project called Tempe Streetcar, is two years from completion. 

Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell said the Culdesac Tempe project is consistent with the city’s vision for meaningful development.

“We are trying to help people be less reliant on cars to get around Tempe and even the greater Phoenix metropolitan area,” he said. “This project is perfect for our vision.”