Earlier plans and marketing brochures loosely claimed that houses in East London would be inspired by a regional style of “old Memphis” or “old Mississippi riverfront towns”, but this was largely a marketer’s fictional appeal to history. With more than 20-approved architects and builders on an “approved” list who custom design for buyers of neighborhood lots, the resulting housing along the streets is an ambiguous mixture of “turn-of-the-century-style” homes. This ambiguity is a positive feature of the development, because it permits the neighborhood to achieve an evolved look, and encourages creativity among the builders in manipulating the design code to various configurations. 7 In fact, Harbor Town does have the feel of a streetcar suburb of 75 years ago — even boasting the inclusion of authentic 1890 lampposts. Lot sizes are small, and dense lines of houses sport mandatory front porches kept close to the street edge. But after these generally consistent themes, Harbor Town features styles, which derive inspiration from just about any period or place. On a corner lot fronting Island Drive for example, stands the dream home of one owner and his architect: an octagonal house with a spy-glass cupola reminiscent, not of old southern river towns, but of ocean view mansions in Newport, Rhode Island. Across the street, in a series of six, award-winning “shot-gun houses”, more contemporary creations are found in cathedral ceiling, A-frames, with modern windows set in the triangles shaped by their roof peaks. Such diversity is an overall benefit, because it encourages a mixture of styles throughout the neighborhood.
More important, is its challenge to designers to incorporate contemporary conveniences into houses, which otherwise would not exist in a “real” turn-of-the-century town. Several model homes in Harbor Town have been innovative in their responses to this, as well as to the restrictions placed on them by the design code and the scarcity of space that is characteristic to any downtown property. National recognition for the ingenuity of space-efficient, modern city homes in Harbor Town has been the source of many design and home builders awards. For example, in a 1994 competition with more than 700 entries from around the country, the Builder’s Choice Design & Planning Award sponsored in conjunction with the American Institute of Architects announced: “The top award goes to a tiny house in Memphis that sums up, in 1,650 feet square feet, the key themes of this year’s competition. It’s a modern house in a pedestrian-friendly, neo-traditional setting. It’s cost-conscious design gives new life to affordable everyday materials, An not one foot square goes to waste.”8 In 1991, Professional Builder Magazine’s award found much the same rationale in its decision that the: “House of the Year is a Home for the 1990s” stating that “this narrow, modest-sized home, incorporates innovative features to enhance livability, while addressing many of today’s most pressing constraints: affordability, land availability, and energy use…with home-buyer preference trending [sic] more and more to quality, permanence, and stay-athome livability …this 1750-foot Memphis row house on a 30 foot-wide city lot, embodies features that will mark the housing design and layout well into the 1990s.”9 Still, other awards were given for the Shot-Gun style design mentioned previously for “on its narrow 25 foot by 110 foot lot, it maximizes living space and wastes no room on hallways. Double-decker porches and side courtyard extend living outside, and an attached garage backs up to alleyway for street access”. 10
This newness and contemporary designs are critical elements in Harbor Town’s hybrid style. Access to nature and the outdoors in Harbor Town is comparable to the suburbs. This is due in part to the neighborhood’s location on a previously uninhabited island. Yet with full-scale development underway and a projected population of almost 7000 residents by 1996, the site’s ability to provide recreational access and contact with nature would not have been automatically guaranteed. The ambitious landscaping plan, instead is at the heart of this provision. Over 20% of the site is dedicated to communal open space, with 15% more including the streets. There are three formal parks designed to be the focus for communal activity. Settlers Point Park contains a formal Victorian pavilion overlooking the Wolf River. Nursery Park is a landscaped green mainly designed for children surrounded by views of smalllot houses. Similarly, Christmas Tree Park is an open square designed to be a meeting place for neighborhood events. Bordering the neighborhood the city-owned Mississippi Greenbelt Park along the river, with an uninterrupted view since the opposing Arkansas shoreline is an undevelopable flood plain for more than a mile inside the levee. From this vantage, visitors to the park can watch tow boats, riverboats and barges gliding silently down the river — day and night — and unimpeded views of western sunsets.
A community boating facility on the Downtown side of the island is provided (in addition to the Wolf River Harbor’s marina slips). A recent article in the community newsletter announced that rowing lessons would be offered by a former coach who is a resident, with an aim to organizing a neighborhood crew team.11 The edges the neighborhood and the interior wetlands spine were designed to keep the naturalistic feel of the former island. Along the linear parkland loop that swings through the interior of the site in a U shape, wetlands were preserved as amenities. A nature trail used by joggers and as a seating area winds under mature trees and vegetation. Among the six ponds included in the wetlands, is a sanctuary for birds, and several small varieties of fishing stock. The system which is maintained by gardeners, functions for residents as though it were a natural ecosystem, with hidden control over the negative natural accompaniments such as weeds and mosquitoes. The physical appeal of this is evident. In the spring edition of the neighborhood’s newsletter, families of ducks and geese were included in the ongoing list of new families to the community.
A small story in the same edition reminded neighbors to “look for youngest of these family members — the new ducklings — when passing over the footbridges.” 12 As an extension of this environment, outdoor life is naturally provided in the private outdoor spaces of the lots or buildings. Without exception, all of the units in Harbor Town give outdoor access through a yard, patio, deck, or balconies.