Davis, California

Aug 1, 2005
Outside Magazine

POPULATION: 65,000 // MEDIAN AGE: 25 // MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $333,000 // AVERAGE COMMUTE: 20.6 min.

If more developments resembled Davis's Village Homes project, subdivision might not be such a dirty word. Trees shade the narrow streets, keeping the asphalt (and air) cooler during the hot Central Valley summers than in less enlightened housing tracts. Nearly 75 percent of the community's 225 houses use solar power, reducing furnace heat in the winter. And it's all linked by broad common spaces, winding pathways, and—here's a term you don't hear enough—"edible landscaping": community vineyards and orchards yielding grapes, persimmons, cherries, almonds, and peaches. No town gives more leeway to bicycles: 51 miles of paths and 50 miles of bike lanes (among the first in the nation); special bike-traffic signals at intersections; even BikeTalk on KDRT-FM (K-Dirt). Citizen involvement is high on the list of civic values: Rush hour in Davis, goes a local truism, happens just before 7 p.m., when people are scurrying to their committee meetings.

PROGRESSIVE CRED // If you're tall, dark, and herbaceous, this is your kind of town. Davis maintains a Landmark Tree List and a Master Street Tree List—as well as 31 parks, 20 greenbelts, and a 400-acre man-made wetland. To compensate for every acre of farmland built upon, developers must preserve two acres of comparable land in its place. Culture gets a nod, too: 1 percent of all capital-improvement funds is set aside for public art such as sculptures. And Central Park's year-round farmers' market, says Mitch Sears, Davis's open-space planner, is "a community touchstone."
LIVABILITY // UC Davis, which employs one out of every three residents, keeps the local scene young and diverse. Land trusts, nonprofits, and green research programs, such as the National Institute for Global Environmental Change, abound. Davis's proximity to the Bay Area and the Sierra Nevada means that anything you can do on water, snow, rock, or dirt is never far away.
YOU'LL LOVE IT IF // In the standard American turf wars—bike vs. SUV, farm vs. strip mall—you always root for the underdog.