I've been at my childhood home in the far suburbs these past few weekends helping my mom move, and what has caught my eye is the first real New Economy project up there. Some zombie sprawl projects--permitted before the crash--have been ongoing due to the locally-strong economy (thanks Merck), but this is the first project that has been entirely conceived and realized after 2008. It's called Cannon Square, and it's rowhomes.
Here is where it is, at the corner of 2nd and Cannon in inner Lansdale, on the site of old industry with parking lot, and this is what it looks like:
1. New Economy projects are urban. They consist of primarily attached housing, an urban format, in urban contexts (utilization of existing infrastructure in preference to its installment de novo), commonly multilevel, with small blocks. They are designed and realized in smaller footprints, and with smaller budgets. This style was pioneered with Southwest Center City builders (such as Metro Impact), who, whatever else they claim or one says about their designs, have succeeded in bringing economies of standardization to the inherently nonstandard nature of infill, primarily by standardizing rowhome design, and is clearly catching on with the bigger builders.
2. Big builders are adapting to the New Economy. They have to. THP's spectacular collapse concomitant with the collapse of the real estate bubble in the Philadelphia area was very much due to their overextension in suburban formats to the exclusion of all others (a trait shared by other major builders). Now other major builders--such as Toll Brothers and W.B. Homes--are finishing up previously-permitted projects and showing a trend of favoring investment in urban-type projects. Toll Brothers, for example, bought large into Philadelphia with Naval Square, and are following up with new projects across the street, at 20th and Bainbridge, and in Society Hill's NewMarket hole. This is also emblematic of a larger shift to more urban environments--environments that these companies are only now learning to build in.
We will have to see whether this is an emergent trend--or just an aberration.