Saturday, May 2, 2009

Newfields Innovations, Failure, and Denoument

Newfields had one lasting contribution to suburban planning in Ohio, but is also a good case study of a beautiful theory ambushed by reality; a suburban experiment that failed.

Dual Developers and New Community Authority

Title VII new communities were intended to be demonstration projects and had to incorporate development and planning innovations to be eligible for HUD assistance (HUD administered Title VII).

One of the innovations that helped sell the Newfields application to HUD was the Dual Developer Concept.

The ideas was that Newfields would be developed jointly by private sector for-profit developers and a non-profit quango, called the New Community Authority, or NCA. The NCA would be responsible for developing & operating the open space and community support features (including preschool) and have some involvement with the town center. The NCA was, perhaps, as the convener of the design think tank that would do the detailed planning as the community grew.

The NCA was structured so it could be expanded as new areas were developed. The board of directors originally had private developer representation (but not a majority of the board). As the new community became populated it would eventually move to full resident representation. As the NCA had bonding authority and was responsible for some infrastructure development and maintenance it would generate revenue via an "income charge" on the residents, perhaps akin to a local income tax.

The NCA remains a lasting contribution of Newfields, as the enabling legislation remains on the books in amended form as Title 3 Chapter 349 of the Ohio Revised Code. The NCA is being used for modern developments like New Albany near Columbus, San Mar Gale near Oregonia and the Big Darby plan for the open country west of Columbus.

Newfields Politics

Why a NCA? Apparently Huber thought of incorporating but as this was so close to Trotwood Trotwood could have prohibited annexation. And Dayton would not sign-off on the Federal A95 review unless it could annex the new town. And Trotwood and Dayton where already at loggerheads over annexation as Trotwood had outmaneuvered Dayton in the 1960s for the annexation of the Salem Mall.

So a compromise had to be brokered.

Trotwood would get to annex phase I, Dayton would get to annex the panhandle and the "town center" area. The part of the new town out in Perry Township was left for future decisions. The sweet part of this deal for Dayton is that it would have an opportunity to annex what could have been a new "edge city" as well as industrial land.

The book on Newfields also implies some monetary payoffs by Huber to certain Dayton political leaders (such as the father the current Dayton mayor) were needed to tamp down political opposition from the city.

Dayton did start to annex westward as the new town went under development, which is why the city limits encompass that farmland south and east of Trotwood.

Causes of Failure

Newfields was built on very shaky financial and market projections. As early as 1972 some internal financial projections were showing that the economic model was unsound.

And assumptions on capture rate of new housing proved to be very rosy. As was noted Huber chose this area over Bellbrook as land was cheaper due to slower growth. Perhaps things would have been different if the area had expressway connections or was more desirable to the local real estate market.

The big postwar Huber success, Huber Heights, was in an underdeveloped, stagnant suburban area. The Hubers pretty much made that area boom. So expectations would have been similar for Newfields, assuming ongoing growth. But that was not the case as Dayton region stopped growing in 1970, entering an era of prolonged population stagnation and economic structural adjustment.

There was also the issue of the “housing project” character of Newfields.

The intention of Newfields was to have a mix of density and socioeconomic groups, and was developed with Federal assistance. This would have been a radical concept in the context of the conservative suburban real estate market of that era, possibly contributing to racial steering into the Trotwood area in the 1970s, due the local real estate community perhaps abandoning the area as suitable housing for whites. And the developer, Don Huber, had a history with partnering with black developers in urban renewal projects prior to Newfields. Was the thinking that Don Huber was going to develop a big Madden Hills instead of a new Huber Heights?

In short, maybe Newfields was unmarketable in the context of the Dayton regions racially and economically segregated housing market?

The Boaz Allen & Hamilton Evaluation & The Basic Flaw

An evaluation of the entire Title VII program by accountants Boaz, Allen, and Hamilton for HUD pretty much confirms some basic flaws in the entire program in finance, program design and management, and developer assumptions.

B,A, & H don’t say this but the fundamental demographic assumption underpinning Title VII was proven false; that urban areas would continued to grow during the 1970s due to rural depopulation and internal metropolitan area population growth. Instead internal population growth leveled off and rural out migration ceased. And, in 1970, no one forecast the economic disruption of the oil price shock of 1973-74, with the subsquent recession and inflation.

The B,A, & H study contains this sensitivity analyses for Newfields, showing negative cash flow for the duration of the project if some fundamental economic assumptions changed, which is what happened during the 1970s.

Timeline & Endgame

There where also conflicts between the first project manager and Huber, leading to the resignations of the both general manager and NCA manager.

Things did happen in Newfields. About $20,000,000 was spent on land acquisition, development, and management/consultant cots.


Enabling legislation enacted for the New Community Authority.


The New Community Authority was created, a new general manager hired, a revised master plan developed, ground breaking in September, and HUD project agreement in November. Dayton begins to annex the Panhandle. Newfields name and logo by Chermayeff.


Revenue bonds floated for commercial building in the community center, construction of the first lake, recreation center, and housing units. Title VII program suspended by HUD in October, general manager fired and some staff suspended.


Additional layoffs, NCA informs HUD the project is not viable, Newfields defaults on interest payments (picked up by HUD per agreement), Huber closes out his construction company for Newfields. (Don Huber remains in business in Dayton today, though, recently developing land in Beavercreek)


NCA director resigns, HUD finds project not economically viable, accelerates principle and interest payments on bonds


Foreclosure action by HUD and negotiated solution proposed.

What was proposed was that the property be disposed of three ways. Winters Bank (today’s JPMorgan Chase), which had loaned money to the defunct NCA, and HUD would self off the panhandle property and split the proceeds. HUD would sell the westernmost part of the property to the State of Ohio, which would convert the vacant land to a state park. HUD would sell the phase I property as three development areas. So, interesting to see here that the State of Ohio ends up holding part of the bag via its agreement to take some empty land off the hands of the Feds.

On the map...the Ohio state park in green, HUD/Winters sales and split in gray, and the remaining development areas sold off by HUD in red.

It's not known if the HUD/Winters Bank land ever was sold. It seems to be still for sale based on signs on the property.


Sycamore State Park dedicated, November 1979. So it will be 40 years this fall.

All that’s left of the bulk of Newfields land are the empty farmlands and the wooded Wolf Creek valley of Sycamore State Park

And the aborted development in the HUD sell-off areas. The Newfields name was abandoned; Newfields Boulevard (the main road through the area) was renamed Sycamore Boulevard

And Newfield went down the local memory hole. What was to be a suburb of +/- 30,000, perhaps the most ambitous suburban developement of the 1970s, is totally forgotten (or there is a polite silence about it).

Yes, things were actually built here, and Daytonlogy will investigate this area as taste of what could have been, and as Dayton's only example of another 1960s-era suburban experiment, cluster housing.


There are various publications on the Title VII program, both government and non-government. Some of these (like the Booze/Allen evaluation) specfically mention Newfields.

For Newfields itself:

The downtown library History Room has the original and final EIS, the two applications, and supporting info that was sent to HUD, as well as the new town newsletter.

There is also a book: The Politics of New Town Planning, The Newfields Ohio Story, by Fredrick Steiner, published by Ohio University press. 227 pages. The book is perhaps a bit one -sided as it tells the story from the perspective of Gerwin Rohrback, who was the first project manager or director, not so much from Huber, who declined to be interviewed. Rohrback was trained as a landscape architect at Harvard along with McHarg, but went into urban planning.


"TheDonald" said...

What a great historical perspective, Jeffrey. A few years ago I drove up to the Wolf Creek bike trail to ride, and I saw stuff around there like the Moto Photo headquarters building. It is visually apparent that something grandiose had been aborted and swept under the rug there. I recall the discussion about Newfields back in the 70s in the local media - if you paid attention to the local news outlets, it seemed like Dayton was headed to become as large a metro area as Cincinnati. The sad thing is, this local progressivist pro-growth stuff seems absolutely quaint now.

Josh said...

I actually grew up in what is now known as Sycamore Woods which, sounds like, was the small developed section of the Newfields project. To this day, my Mother still lives there. When we were kids, we ran across a small, white, dilapidated shed just on the Shiloh Springs Rd. side of the Wolf Creek bridge on Sycamore Woods Blvd. Across from where the orthodontist office sits today. Being curious, we went inside, and found a pile of old blueprints and documents that had a header reading "Newfields" on them. This was somewhere in the early 80's ('83 - '84). Being around 9 years old at the time, we really didn't understand what we were looking at. But looking back, I wish I had held on to that stuff. All of it was probably thrown out with the rubble when the old shed was eventually demolished.