ReportageThe Culdesac start-up project is starting to see the light of day in the suburbs of Phoenix. In this capital of “car culture”, where it is 38°C for four months of the year, the bet is not won.
Live in a cul-de-sac? The idea is not the most pleasing, except to be American. In the United States, the word “cul-de-sac” – pronounced in French – evokes images of happy suburbs with comfortable residences: the ultimate in life for suburbia. We are quiet there, among ourselves, at the end of a semicircular alley, not disturbed by the passage of strangers. The children play around the basketball boards planted by one or another of the neighbors. The American dream, isolationist version.
The “cul-de-sac” of Tempe, Arizona, has nothing to do with this image queen of the sprawl, urban sprawl, of the 2000s, but it provides the same vision of harmony. Here the inhabitants do not seek distance but proximity, and they share the common desire to live without a car. The project is unprecedented, even a little crazy, when you know that the experiment takes place in one of the high places of “car culture”, the metropolitan area of Phoenix, in the south-west of the United States: near of 5 million people, a sprawling area that saw the country’s largest population increase in a major metropolis between 2010 and 2020. The city is one of the country’s least comfortable for pedestrians, according to the Walk Index Score.
A gray cube
At 2205 East Apache Boulevard in Tempe, on the eastern outskirts of Phoenix, earthmoving equipment is busy. A gray cube has come out of the ground: this will be the gym. The plywood walls delimit the first apartments. In a prefab, the employees of the start-up – itself named Culdesac –, all young engineering or marketing graduates, receive potential residents. The project was announced for 2020, then 2021. It was delayed, because of the pandemic, but that did not prevent the company, born in San Francisco and redeployed in Arizona, from raising 30 million dollars in early January. Investors: some of the big names in Silicon Valley: Khosla Ventures, Byers, Founders Fund.
Residents – tenants exclusively – will have to agree not to try to park a vehicle within a radius of 400 meters
The neighborhood runs along Apache Boulevard, the former US Highway 60, one of the historic routes of America’s great westward migration. Developed in the 1920s, when Phoenix had just 50,000 residents, dubbed “Superstition Road,” the thoroughfare was given over to low-end motels and miscellaneous traffic after the construction of the 10 Freeway. it is at the heart of Tempe’s urban renewal, around Arizona State University and the light rail, the tram, whose stop is located just in front of the construction site. In the surroundings, remain some vestiges of the past, garage with tires, warehouse of storage; gradually replaced by cannabis shops, vaping shops and yoga studios.
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