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Agritopia Site Plan

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Agritopia in Gilbert, Arizona
Agritopia in Gilbert, Arizona

By Simmons B. Buntin                                                 [view Agritopia photo gallery]


Agritopia Site Plan
  Site map of Agritopia. Click image for larger view.
Graphic courtesy Agritopia and BCDM/Barduson Architects.

Located in the rapidly developing town of Gilbert, Arizona, Agritopia is the Phoenix area’s first traditional neighborhood development and among the nation’s first mixed-used communities to integrate working agriculture. Rather than similar principles of New Urbanism, however, the 166-acre community built on the last undeveloped portion of the Johnston family farm is based on a set of Christian foundational principles and subsequent derived principles that range from promoting a simpler life to honoring agriculture. Indeed, Agritopia could be called evangelical New Ruralism.

The name Agritopia derives from Johnston family’s vision for the project: “Agri” for the land’s farming heritage—it has been farmed consistently since the 1920s—and “topia” for the perfect community. “Names convey a lot,” says Joe Johnston. “I’ve always been annoyed by the way places are named around here. Quail Run, something ranch. We’ve never had ranches around here. There’s no relationship to what the place is.”

With more than a dozen acres of active pastures and farmland at the neighborhood’s center, and orchards on its periphery, the project seems to defy New Urbanism’s transect model, in which dense mixed uses occur at the project’s center and become less compact (and generally lower in building height) toward the edges, which then blend to a series of parks or other open spaces. For owner Joe Johnston, however, the project’s goal was to keep agriculture as the “heart of Agritopia,” according to lead designer Steve Barduson. By preserving the farmland at the project’s core, other uses—porch-fronted homes, the local school, town center, parks and trails, the agro-commercial area, a church, and retail center—radiate from the agriculture, symbolically and literally.

Grapevines and unplanted fields, with cottage homes in the distance.
Grapevines and unplanted fields, with cottage homes in the distance.
Photo by Simmons Buntin.

Though planning and implementation was challenging, residential sales were rapid. In 2004—at the height of Agritopia’s construction—Gilbert was the fastest growing municipality of more than 100,000 people in the U.S., according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Only one of the 452 lots comprised of “classic” and “cottage” homes remains unbuilt. The agro-commercial center is also largely built out, and the K-12 Gilbert Christian School and community center are complete while a senior assisted-living complex is moving forward. Because of the downturn in the economy, however, the retail center, town square with adjacent church, and bungalow office lots near the busy intersection of Higley and Ray Roads remain unbuilt.

Project History, Planning, and Design

Throughout the 1990s, the Johnston family had been selling off portions of its farm to developers. Gilbert was rapidly becoming a Phoenix bedroom community, far to the east, and with the planned expansion of Loop 202, it was only a matter of time, it seemed, before the entire area sprawled to match the rest of the metro area’s typical, automobile-oriented suburbia. Joe Johnston and his family had also sold land for regional parks, and recognizing that farming was no longer in his family’s future, he considered the possibilities for the last remaining farmland, which included the family home.

In 1998 the Johnston family entered into an agreement with Scott Homes, and soon brought on BCDM/Barduson Architects. Joe Johnston was clear on his vision, wanting to “honor God and the area’s agricultural heritage” by creating a neighborhood reflective of the Midwestern small towns that are the heart of their agricultural landscapes. Though sad about losing that heritage, Johnston passionately believed that the project that was to become Agritopia could provide for the sharing of common amenities, reduce materialism, and focus on pedestrians—all the while honoring agriculture by providing access to pastures, gardens, and orchards. “”The people make the place neighborly,” says Johnston, “but it is also the way you design the setting. The way the homes are done . . . the streets are done to deemphasize cars. All those make for a more neighborly neighborhood and attract people, who want to be social.”

Agritopia's Design Principles

Agritopia porch, yard, and pastures

We, the Johnston brothers, are Christians who believe the Bible is the unchanging and perfect Word of God. Creation, the fall of man, and the plan of salvation through Jesus Christ are real to us and affect all aspects of our lives. We believe it is the purpose of man to enjoy a personal relationship with God and glorify Him. The question is how to do that with respect to a project like this.

View all principles > >


Construction began in 2001, but not before the design team tackled a number of significant issues. “It was so challenging to make the project work,” says Barduson, even as he admits Agritopia is one of the most enjoyable developments he’s been involved with.

For starters, the design team needed to create a completely new zoning ordinance for the town of Gilbert, made more challenging by the fact that the Phoenix metro area offered no similar developments or ordinances from which to borrow. Part of the Gateway Area Plan for Gilbert’s “Gateway Character Area,” the Agritopia project also required a rezoning to rural-residential use. According to planning consultant David Longley, the Gateway Area Plan offered “a new approach to minimizing the effect of sprawl because of its design elements.” Town staff was encouraging, recalls Barduson, but that didn’t alleviate the great number of legal challenges.

Gilbert’s resulting Gateway Area Traditional Neighborhood Design Guidelines took more than two years to complete, and were key in not only allowing Agritopia, but also in providing for future pedestrian- and transit-oriented development in the town:

The Gateway Character Area describes desirable physical characteristics that will enhance Gilbert’s unique identity and bring back traditional neighborhoods. It provides for traditional village/neighborhood design concepts in exchange for higher densities. It promotes pedestrian/bicycle/transit-oriented design, and integrates residential, commercial, employment, schools, places of worship, and parks with rail and bus transit, bikeways, and pedestrian paths. It affords an opportunity for small-scale urban agriculture.

Perhaps the largest challenge in establishing the guidelines and subsequent overlay for Agritopia was working with the Gilbert Fire Department, which opposed the project’s skinny streets and roundabouts. Only after Scott Homes agreed to build sprinkler systems into every home did the Fire Department sign off on the planned area development.

Cottage homes feature large front porches that look onto a shared grassy commons.
Cottage homes feature large front porches that look onto a shared grassy commons.
Photo by Simmons Buntin.

Designers faced another interesting challenge, as well. To maintain the Midwestern feel of the project, the team decided early on to provide for grass lawns and planting strips between streets and sidewalks. In Arizona, however, it is illegal to plant grass strips in residential rights-of-way because of the amount of water required to sustain the grass. By amending Gilbert’s street standards to allow the property line to be defined as the back of the curb, however, Agritopia circumvents the right-of-way constraint and grass planting strips prevail.

BCDM/Barduson Architects led a series of design charrettes and workshops that included neighborhood meetings and storyboarding. The project’s design grew out of those sessions, as well as negotiations with town staff. With the gardens and pastures at Agritopia’s center, more active uses radiate out from the core. Along the southern border of Ray Road, the agro-commercial area bridges date and peach orchards with the town square and retail center, both still unbuilt. The gardens adjoin the school and ball fields, community center, and compact neighborhoods of cottage homes. The retail center at the intersection of Ray and Higley Roads is bounded on the north by the still-unbuilt live/work bungalow offices. The remaining classic and cottage homes are bisected by landscaped pedestrian paths and pocket parks with play structures. Along their northern edge, Loop 202 (SanTan Freeway) is offset by a green belt and Gilbert’s extensive Central Trail system. On the west, Agritopia is bordered by Cosmo Dog Park.

Richly landscaped pathways weave among Agritopia's cottage and classic homes.
  Richly landscaped pathways weave among Agritopia's cottage and classic homes.
Photo by Simmons Buntin.

Agriculture and Open Space

The Johnston family has owned the former cotton and cattle feed/grain farm since the 1960s. Though the 12-acre pastures and gardens at the center of Agritopia continue to be the heart of the project, they are privately owned. Still, the Farm at Agritopia—as the full operations are called—is perhaps the key element for the community. “It is not like a country farm in that it will be in the heart of a fairly dense urban area,” say Agritopia’s marketing materials. “This farm is an ‘urban farm’ designed to flourish in the urban setting. Instead of a huge field of one crop, you find a patchwork of numerous specialty crops.”

Crops from the central farmlands as well as eight additional acres of orchards on the project’s periphery include dates, peaches, citrus, beets, basil and other herbs, lettuce, carrots, heirloom tomatoes, and more. “Initially,” says Johnston, “ we have focused on a broad mix of lettuce and other salad greens plus a vegetable garden. We have chosen these because we will need theses items in large quantities, they are high-value crops, and they have a long growing season . . . An experimental area in which we can test tropicals and other marginally adapted plants will come later.”

A farmer experienced in growing organic greens aided the Farm in setting up its systems. Organic produce from the farm serves Joe’s Farm Grill and the Coffee Shop and supplies the Farm Stand, open on weekends in the agro-commercial area through the fall, winter, and spring.

The Farm at Agritopia also intends for animals to join the urban farm mix. Candidates include goats (for milk and cheese), chickens (for eggs), cows (for milk), and bees (for honey and pollination).

Date orchards near the entrance to Agritopia off Ray Road.
Date orchards near the entrance to Agritopia off Ray Road.
Photo by Simmons Buntin.

Surprisingly, Agritopia doesn’t support a community garden, nor do backyard vegetable gardens appear to be common. However, one of the lead farmers plans to hold classes that teach residents how to grow food and cook or prepare raw meals.

In the meantime, residents can stroll along the groomed pedestrian paths that are lined by white fences overgrown with seedless grape vines and dotted by flagstone benches. All trails lead to the agro-commercial area, and eventually will lead to the town square and retail center once constructed. Neighbors may also wander on paths adjacent to the orchards.

If the Farm at Agritopia is the community’s heart, then the extensive trail system and parks are its circulatory system. “Our goal was to have a park with play equipment within two blocks of every home,” says Barduson. Connecting the well-appointed pocket parks and larger playing fields is a network of clay and concrete trails that enable pedestrians to easily move throughout the neighborhood. Additionally, the cottage homes front lushly landscaped, meandering walkways instead of streets.

Agritopia is bordered on the north by Gilbert’s wide Central Trail, which connects neighborhoods throughout the town’s incorporated area. Agritopia developers worked with town staff on the adjacent, award-winning Cosmo Dog Park, which features a large ramada for picnics, four acres of fenced off-leash area as well as individual areas for timid dogs, a pond with wetlands, an amphitheater, area lighting for night use, and more. The design team also worked with town planners and the Arizona Department of Transportation to erect a bridge that spans SanTan Freeway north of the development. The pedestrian bridge connects Agritopia, via Gilbert’s Central Trail, to the neighborhood north of the freeway as well as the large Crossroads District Park.

Landscape design plan for the agro-commercial area.
  Landscape design plan for the agro-commercial area.
Graphic courtesy JJR|Floor.

Landscaping by Floor Associates (now JJR|Floor) provides a mix of native and non-native plants, though it’s clear that Agritopia’s design is far more Midwestern than Southwestern despite its arid location. Barduson admits there was little discussion about water efficiency at the time of Agritopia’s planning more than ten years ago. “Things would be different now,” he says. But, he noted, the Midwestern feel was important, and grass is a critical component.

While reclaimed water or other alternative water saving landscape features do not exist onsite, play fields, finger parks, and gardens are designed to capture runoff, and pastures and much of the agro-commercial area is flood-irrigated as part of the Roosevelt Water District.

Homes at Agritopia

Agritopia’s home designs stem from Johnston’s passion for houses that reflect the vernacular of older homes in downtown Gilbert and Phoenix neighborhoods like F.Q. Story, Coronado, and Encanto-Palmcroft. Scott Homes offered 11 floorplans each with four elevations created by BSB Design and based on the following architectural styles:

  • Craftsman/California Bungalow, popular from 1905 to 1930
  • Spanish Eclectic, popular from 1910 to 1940
  • Northern European Revival (Tudor and French Revival), popular from 1915 to 1945
  • Arizona Territorial, Agritopia’s name for “a general style observed in the neighborhoods that spanned a territorial look, farm house look, and early ranch style homes”
Cottage homes featuring a variety of architectural styles.
  Cottage homes featuring a variety of architectural styles.
Photo by Simmons Buntin.

While the homes range from 1,300 to more than 3,200 square feet—not including optional basements on some models that can add as much as 2,000 square feet and three bedrooms—the lots range from 2,500 square feet for cottage homes to between 7,000 and 10,000 square feet for classic homes. Because BSB Design wanted a mix of home sizes on the same block without larger homes dwarfing smaller homes, it concentrated on approaches to massing, including:

  • Dividing livable spaces into two or three floors to reduce the street-level footprint and massing of the house
  • Limiting the footprint of homes to no more than 150 percent of the smallest home
  • Setting the upper floor within the roof trusses and using dormers to reduce height and mass

The homes—288 classic models and 164 cottage models on 452 single-family lots—are further delineated through three additional approaches: flex-lots, bungalow units, and garage living space. Agritopia’s unique flex-lot system allowed some homebuyers to choose lot size. The purchaser of a lot where the lot behind had not yet been purchased could choose the depth of the lot, which typically was 62 feet wide. The standard lot is 120 feet deep, but one or two 15-foot extensions could be purchased resulting in a 135-foot or 150-foot deep lot. Variations in lot depth allow for larger yards while maintaining consistent streetscapes and front massing.

Like many New Urbanist projects, Agritopia allows for the addition of carriage homes—or what BSB Design calls bungalow units—on about 40 lots designated for classic homes. The owner of the lot may then live in the main residence and use the bungalow unit as an additional residence for a relative or a renter, or as a place of business. The bungalow units are approximately 800 square feet in size with three floorplans: two-bedroom home, business office, and pool house designed for recreational purposes. They sit on the back of lots that do not back to another lot—usually on greenways or with a street at the rear of the lot. The architecture of the bungalow unit matches the architecture of the main residence.

Classic homes have no alleys but place the garage to the rear of the lot, accessible by strip driveways.
Classic homes have no alleys but place the garage to the rear of the lot, accessible by strip driveways.
Photo by Simmons Buntin.

“We consider it extremely important to design homes that are flexible enough to fit the changing needs of their owners,” say Agritopia marketing materials. The builder also capitalized on flexible space within the garage, enabling original homebuyers to configure the garage to add an adjoining casita—equal in size to the space of one garage bay—or an apartment—equal in size to the space of two garage bays, with a floorplan of a one-bedroom flat.

Though homeowners may have opted for bungalow units and casitas which may then be rented out, the Agritopia homeowners association does not allow individual rental of full homes. “With rentals, you just never really know who you’re going to get,” says Dena Wall, whose family moved to Agritopia in part because of the no-rental policy, according to a 2004 article in The Arizona Republic.

The single-family homes were built in phases. Phase I was comprised of 157 classic home lots in the western third of Agritopia, adjacent to Cosmo Park on the west and bordered by a green belt and fields to the north. Phase II was comprised of 160 lots for both classic and cottage homes, bordered on the north by the greenway and Gilbert’s Central Trail. Phase IV was constructed simultaneously with Phase II and is comprised of a cluster of cottage homes near the agro-commercial area. Phase III includes both classic and cottage homes, and bridges the town square and retail area with the community center.

“Land use planning and the home designs went hand-in-hand,” says Brad Sonnenburg, partner at BSB Design, which led Agritopia’s architectural design. His goal was to create an overall street system and individual streetscapes where people could interact. “We view the street system as not just for cars, but as a part of the public open space shared by pedestrians and cyclists,” says Johnston. With sidewalks separated from tree-lined streets, narrow streets with on-street parking to reduce traffic velocity, and front porches serving as prominent and usable features, the neighborhood’s walkability is evident.

Classic homes at the intersection of a secondary street and carriage lane.
  Classic homes at the intersection of a secondary street and carriage lane.
Photo by Simmons Buntin.

The widest road in the project is Agritopia Loop, which bisects the project, connecting Ray and Higley Roads as it passes the school, community center, and forthcoming Agritopia Senior Living complex. Studded with a series of shallow roundabouts, the street is 37 feet wide, including two parking lanes of eight feet each. The distance from sidewalk to house front is only eight and a half feet, though the planting strip is seven feet wide and the sidewalk five feet wide. Secondary streets are ten feet narrower—27 feet wide—with similar dimensions from street to house front. Alleys do not provide for parking and are typically 17 feet wide, providing for a five-foot distance from sidewalk to house.

In addition to the single-family lots, developers still plan to build apartments above the commercial spaces of the retail center, as well as live/work units coined “bungalow offices” along Higley Road on the eastern edge of the project. The combination of loft-like apartments, carriage houses, cottage homes, and larger classic models results in a range of pricing and helps meet the developer’s goal of residential affordability.

Yet given Gilbert’s desert location and the abundance of sunshine—as well as the project’s goals of promoting sharing and a simpler life—the use of passive and active solar resources on the homes would seem logical. However, Scott Homes offered no solar or energy efficiency options beyond tankless water heaters. Likewise, no advanced technology features such as home energy management systems or neighborhood wifi was built into the homes. Nor were water efficiency measures, beyond standard low-flow toilets and showerheads, implemented.

Agritopia's community center.
Agritopia's community center with shared ball fields behind.
Photo by Simmons Buntin.

Commercial, Mixed Uses, and Civic Uses

Agritopia’s most distinctive feature may be its agro-commercial area, the design team’s “vision for our development of the Johnston family homestead area.” Each existing building has been preserved by converting it to a new use compatible with an urban setting: the family’s home became Joe’s Farm Grill, a tractor shed became the Coffee House, and a garage and carport now house a Vespa repair shop and the Farm Stand fresh produce stand. One of the most visible structures is a bright silver barn shaped like an airplane hanger, which is fitting since it was constructed in the 1950s from the sheet metal of retired World War II aircraft. It houses farm equipment and may host a farmer’s market in the future. The businesses within the renovated buildings tie into the project’s rural history through structure, plantings, and other elements, including tractor gears, cultivator wheels, and other parts that serve as artwork throughout.

Combined with the still-unbuilt retail center, the overarching goal of the agro-commercial area, according to Barduson, is to create a kind of “epicurean” center—a destination of local food and culinary arts for which the Coffee Shop, with its fresh-baked goods and gourmet coffees, and Joe’s Farm Grill, with its organic produce and distinctive recipes, are just the beginning. A string of local restaurants is still a possibility, though in the current economic climate, no specific additional restaurants are yet planned.

Though the retail center and lots designated for bungalow offices along Higley Road remain unbuilt, they are actively marketed, and Johnston recently inked a deal with a bank as a tenant in the retail center. Construction should begin soon. Barduson acknowledges that the placement of a small-footprint Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market across the street was a missed opportunity for Agritopia because the grocery store is exactly the type of progressive market the developers were hoping would be built in the neighborhood. Though it’s still nearby, residents are not as likely to walk to the grocery store since they’d have to negotiate the busy intersection.

Teh Coffee Shop: before.
  The Coffee Shop before (as tractor shed, above)—red lines show additions—and after, with inviting patio (below).
Top photo courtesy Agritopia; bottom photo by Simmons Buntin.
The Coffee Shop: after.

Agritopia’s town square, once built, will bridge the agro-commercial area to the west with the retail center to the east, while also providing linkages to pastures and gardens. It will be anchored by a church, though none has yet been identified. The vision for the town square is to include a bandshell reminiscent of those once popular in small Midwestern town centers.

The community center provides a venue for public meetings and other neighborhood events. It also includes a swimming pool, tennis courts, and putting green. The putting green and grass surrounding the community center are crafted of artificial turf to reduce water use and maintenance. The community center is located next to the ball fields that are jointly shared with Gilbert Christian Schools, a preK-12 1A private school with 470 students that focuses on spiritual development, fine arts, and community involvement in addition to academic development. 

Though development of the retail center has stalled, Agritopia Senior Living is moving forward on a five-acre site south of the community center, adjacent to a cluster of cottage homes and orchards. Two two-story buildings totaling more than 140,000 square feet will house 118 units, administrative offices, central kitchen and dining areas, a wellness center, and other indoor/outdoor lifestyle amenities. It will be constructed within the Spanish Eclectic style.

Additionally, a number of home-based businesses operate within Agritopia. Gilbert, in fact, has the highest rate of home-based businesses in the Phoenix metro area. Agritopia’s developers encourage home-based businesses in order to:

  • Reduce commuting and the effects of vehicular traffic on the community
  • Encourage employment within Gilbert
  • Strengthen families and reduce the need for child care
  • Create a stronger, more vibrant neighborhood
  • Embrace the opportunities of the “New Economy” which are computer-oriented

Though Gilbert does not allow non-family members to be employed in home-based businesses, Agritopia received a variance that allows up to two non-family members to be employed. Other restrictions include operating hours limited between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., no operation on Sunday, vehicular traffic cannot exceed five cars per hour or 25 cars per day, and no signs are allowed except for bungalow studios.

The Farm Stand at Agritopia's agro-commercial area.
The Farm Stand at Agritopia's agro-commercial area.
Photo by Simmons Buntin.

The home-based photography business of Bethany and John Lamar was recently featured in Arizona Woman magazine. Three-quarters of the Lamar’s 4,300-square-foot home is dedicated to Lamar Photography Studios. Though the studio itself is in the basement, the dining room serves as the sales office. “We don’t run our business out of our home,” says Bethany Lamar. “We really live out of our business.” Still, the business is separated from the living area because, as Bethany says, “Business is business; home is home. You have to have boundaries.”

For Paul Prosser, who operates his own architecture firm, Prosser Architects, the distinction is clearer because his office is in the bungalow unit on the back of his lot. The opportunity to expand his firm and yet live nearby are the reasons he moved to Agritopia.

Agritopia’s Sense of Place

Despite the Johnston family’s efforts—or rather because of them—Agritopia remains a paradox: a green oasis in the desert; a suburban community that grows much of its own produce; a neighborhood school that, because it is private, is not open to all residents; and a mix of residential architectural styles that have evolved from historic architecture of the region and yet which seem out of place because of the bland uniformity of the tile-roofed houses otherwise found throughout Gilbert.

The New Ruralism

By Rick Wartzman
New America Foundation

Agritopia fields, pedestian paths, and homes

Cities across the United States and around the globe increasingly are championing agriculture and forging beneficial bonds between urban and rural locales. These links can take many forms, some more commonplace than others: bustling farmers’ markets, “buy locally grown” campaigns, urban-to-ag water recycling programs, agricultural greenbelts and parks nestled in and around densely populated areas, city educational and recreational initiatives that regard the farm as a valuable asset. In each case, the key to success is getting people to recognize that the places furnishing our fruits, vegetables, milk, and meat are not separate from the regional metropolitan framework but, rather, an integral piece of it.

Read full story > >


But are these faults? Upon an initial visit to the community, it may appear so. But on the second visit, thoroughly walking the neighborhood convinces one otherwise. Though it’s easy to argue against grass lawns in the Sonoran desert, for example, it’s also clear that lawns are successful in propagating Agritopia’s rural heritage, both of Gilbert and the Midwest. And growing our own produce—urban, suburban, or otherwise—is a necessary step in sustainable development. Indeed, planners and policymakers recognize more and more that agriculture must be a key component of communities moving forward, with a recent movement by New Urbanists specifically to preserve agricultural land as a central component of a neotraditional town rather than, say, creating a golf course.

Though Agritopia’s school is parochial, it gladly shares its ball fields, outdoor courts, and other exterior sports amenities with the community. Additionally, Gilbert Christian School opens its gymnasium to host large community events such as public meetings. While admissions are selective and tuition is cost-based, the school nonetheless serves as an amenity and central feature of the project.

Finally, Agritopia’s architecture feels out of place only in the context of the surrounding I-could-be-anywhere suburban landscape. While some nearby projects have adopted similar architectural elements, those additions are only skin deep. At Agritopia, the architecture and land use were developed together—and work in harmony—to create an authentic neighborhood with a real sense of place and recognition of its agricultural heritage.

Evangelical New Ruralism? Maybe so, because Agritopia is a project worth preaching about.

For more information, view our Agritopia Photo Gallery or visit the Agritopia website at www.Agritopia.com.


Simmons B. Buntin is the founder and editor-in-chief of Terrain.org: A Journal of the Built & Natural Environments. With Ken Pirie, he is the author of the new book Unsprawl: Remixing Spaces as Places (Planetizen Press, 2013). His books of poetry are Riverfall (2005) and Bloom (2010), both published by Ireland's Salmon Poetry. Recent work has appeared in North American Review, ISLE, Versal, Orion, Hawk & Handsaw, High Desert Journal, and Kyoto Journal. Catch up with him at www.SimmonsBuntin.com.
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Posted by GiovannaDecember 07, 2009 - 10:35 am
While looking for a second home in AZ we decided to visit Gilbert. One of the things I have never been fond of is all the "brown"...houses, landscape, etc...in the west (my husband is the hot weather lover). I was so excited when our family came upon Agritopia in October. Even though I am not well versed in community planning, this neighborhood appealed to me on so many levels. And for those who mocked earlier...the streets had tons of people walking around when we visited in late October. Plenty of folks get great use out of the walkways, planned paths and parks. Our agent took us through 3-4 cottages. We are sold. We have just been waiting for the right one to come up. For a girl who grew up in New Jersey (The Garden State) and now a twenty year mid-westener, I applaude Mr. Johnston for putting his principles where his mouth and land are. I look forward to finding our ideal home.

Posted by New to GilbertDecember 02, 2009 - 11:25 am
I'll be moving to Gilbert very soon and when house-hunting, looked at Agritopia. It is certainly attractive, in a "Pleasantville," black & white TV sort of way. I'm a Baby Boomer and love the idea of front porches, green common areas and walkable neighborhoods, but like one of the commenters pointed out, this is the age of global warming and over-dependancy on fossil fuels. I'd rather see a 21st century community designed with a zero-carbon footprint than a throwback to the 50's. Also, the Johnston family's evangelical bent would scare the living Hell out of me (if I believed in Hell). Is there now an approach to architecture and urban planning based on Biblical precepts? Perhaps if the Johnstons didn't think that their notion of God reserved a nice eternal place for them in heaven after the Apocalypse wipes out people like me, they'd be championing environmentally smart designs that preserved the only world we have, for the generations to come.

Posted by JohanNovember 29, 2009 - 06:12 pm
PJP, I think we are yet to experience something without design flaws. Although I must say agrotopia looks very well planned. hypnosis

Posted by GNovember 01, 2009 - 08:57 am
I enjoy visiting Agritopia. I live in Gilbert and often go to the Coffee Shop to sit and read. That corner of Agritopia is such a very peaceful and idyllic place and they captured a setting that you don't see much anymore. I think the Agritopia development is a cheerful contrast from the standard cookie-cutter developments. I like the home styles - there is a sense of the 1920s-1940s Southwestern styles. My only criticism is they need to put in a few more trees along the roads and build up the farm more. Also, they could set an example and add solar panels and solar water heaters.

Posted by PJPSeptember 28, 2009 - 02:06 pm
As a resident (5 years), architect and business owner living & working in Agritopia I know it has design flaws. Conceived in 2001, it was, for it’s time, very forward-thinking, sophisticated work by a small developer. The goals of multi-generational living, integrating business with living, and others, have been met. If larger community developers would even start to think along these lines neighborhoods would be a lot more sustainable. To critics it might seem like baby steps but it was a paradigm shift in the prevailing developer mindset. Sustainable neighborhoods still have a long way to go to full sustainability in our country. LEED ND is the next step

Posted by jkaiSeptember 28, 2009 - 01:58 pm
The word "agritopia" circa 2009 seems to lean towards food security, water and energy awareness, and a general mindfulness of the complexity of systems. So given the forward thinking of a developer at the beginning of the 21st C., can I assume there is a sympiotic arrangement to utilize all the waste and grey water from the homes to sustain the adjacent agriculture. Can I assume these homes are designed to take advantage of the latest in solar energy (solar hotwater on each house... solar energy on each home, or neighborhood field). There is car sharing, and neighborhood greenhouses, and a swapping of home garden produce... and a farmers market every Saturday.
Gasp... you tell me this is not the case? Such shock! (tic).

Posted by tpSeptember 26, 2009 - 11:23 pm
Exact replica of what others are building? Let's see... garages are set back, grass strip driveways, usable (and used) front porches, 4,200 sq ft homes that don't look out of place next to 1,600 sq ft homes, ability to walk to the neighborhood restaurant, coffee shop or farm stand, unique architecture... not sure exactly where the myriad other subdivisions are that this one copied.

Posted by Simmons BuntinSeptember 25, 2009 - 11:02 am
Good feedback Stacy, thanks. You may be interested in learning more about Civano in Tucson, which is a beautiful New Urban community with lush native landscaping, no grass (except a couple small parks) and truly Southwestern vernacular architecture. The UnSprawl case study on Civano is now quite old, but some information is available on the neighborhood association's website at CivanoNeighbors.com. Civano implements quantifiable sustainability goals, and it's one of the most energy efficient communities in the country.

Posted by StacySeptember 25, 2009 - 07:17 am
Interesting concept. I can see a couple of problems -- maybe minor, maybe not. First, I'm troubled by the approach of end-running the grass restrictions. There's a serious reason for those, and it's mentioned right in the article--scarcity of water. Second, and related, the design team seems to have decided ahead of time what businesses will be needed (a coffee shop, of course!) and even what they'll be called. It would be a lot more progressive if they'd gone for native landscaping and building styles (no, not adobe - but in Arizona it makes much more sense to build roman-style verandas and window shades, not midwestern farmhouses)

Posted by Simmons BuntinSeptember 25, 2009 - 12:55 am
I'll let folks argue among themselves as to whether Agritopia is "ridiculous" or a "sham" -- though I'd challenge thinker to prove that Agritopia is the same as what's happening in the rest of the valley; compare it, say, to Lion's Gate across the street and you'll see there are significant differences -- but I can respond to the query about the photos: They were taken on two separate days when it was 112 and 107, so there weren't many people out. Also, and perhaps more importantly, I did not have photo release forms, so those identifiable photos of the few people I photographed at the Coffee Shop, Joe's Farm Grill, the community center, along streets, and at Cosmo Dog Park were not used. Thanks, though, for your comments.

Posted by caitlynSeptember 24, 2009 - 07:31 pm
didn't we learn anything from the garden city movement? this is ridiculous...

Posted by csSeptember 24, 2009 - 02:39 pm
Interesting, a project about community and there is not a single person in any of the images.

Posted by thinkerSeptember 24, 2009 - 01:45 pm
Joke-topia, it is an exact replica of individual land owners building typical suburbia and strip malls, next to older farm properties,it is just one developer doing it and re-branding it. the same development pattern can be seen everywhere in the valley. what a sham, eat it up sheeple.

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Just the Facts.

Gilbert, Arizona

  • Mixed-use 166-acre traditional neighborhood development with an urban farm at its core
  • 452 residential lots feature a mix of “cottage” and “classic” style homes ranging from 1,300 to 3,200 square feet, plus carriage home “bungalows”
  • 20 acres of working pasture, gardens, and orchards
  • Agro-commercial area features farm offices and facilities, farm stand for the sale of local produce, coffee shop, and restaurant
  • Town square with traditional bandshell planned; square will be anchored by a church
  • Retail center based on “epicurean,” food-focused theme planned
  • Live/work bungalow office lots planned along high-traffic area
  • Parochial preK-12 school and shared ball fields onsite
  • 118-unit senior assisted living complex under development
  • Community center with pool and tennis center
  • Integrated sports fields, pocket parks with extensive play structures, green belt, and access to regional parks, including the Cosmo Dog Park
  • Developed by owner Joe Johnston and family based on “Christian foundational principles”
  • Land planning by BCDM/Barduson Architects
  • Architecture by Bloodgood, Sharp & Buster (now BSB Design, Inc.)
  • Landscape architecture by Floor Associates (now JJR|Floor)
  • Homes by Scott Homes




Cosmo Dog Park

The Farm at Agritopia

Farm Stand at Agritopia

Gateway Area Traditional Neighborhood Design Guidelines

Gilbert Christian Schools

Joe's Farm Grill

The New Ruralism (Article by Rick Wartzman, New America Foundation)

Town of Gilbert, Arizona





Aspinwall, Cary, "HOA ban on rentals may cool home sales: Regulation could force investors from market." The Arizona Republic. December 28, 2004.

Aspinwall, Cary, "Perky Coffee Shop aims to be Gilbert's hip hangout." The Arizona Republic. July 5, 2006.

Bland, Karina, "Finding the perfect balance," Arizona Woman. August/ September 2008.

Collom, Lindsey, "'Agritopia' seeds taking time to sprout in Gilbert. The Business Journal of Phoenix. July 28, 2000.

Edwards, Linda M. "Design Review Board Staff Report: DR09-32, Agritopia Senior Living." Town of Gilbert Planning & Development Services. September 10, 2009.

Gateway Area Traditional Neighborhood Design Guidelines. Town of Gilbert Gateway Area. Adopted April 27, 2004.


Laudig, Michele, "Worth the Drive: Hidden jewel in a master-planned community." Phoenix New Times. November 30, 2006.

Lucas, Beth, "Agritopia farm yields vintage crops: Agriculture is integrated with urban living." The Tribune. October 31, 2006.

Moffat, David, "New Ruralism: Agriculture at the Metropolitan Edge." Places: Forum of Design for the Public Realm. December 15, 2006.

Myers, Amanda, "My favorite spot: In-home espresso bar." The Tribune. October 14, 2006.

Padgett, Mike, "Gilbert farms to sprout front-porch community." The Business Journal of Phoenix. August 11, 2000.

Personal communication with Brad Sonnenburg, BSB Design, Inc., September 14, 2009.

Personal communication with Steve Barduson, BCDM/Barduson Architects. September 18, 2009.

Powell, Brian, "Frenetic pace of construction turns Gilbert busy." The Tribune. December 5, 2004.

Schneider, Chelsea, "Magazine gives high praise to Gilbert community." The Arizona Republic. July 10, 2008.

Wartzman, Rick (New America Foundation), "Can the City Save the Farm? New Ruralism—the eclectic outgrowth of farmers and urban planners—wants to remarry town and country." California. May/June 2007.


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