I toured Culdesac, a car-free neighborhood in Arizona

Culdesac is a new housing company with a car-free neighborhood in Tempe, Arizona.
Joey Hadden/Business Insider

  • Culdesac is a car-free neighborhood in Tempe, Arizona.
  • The housing startup has 200 residents who use bikes, scooters and ride-sharing services to get around.
  • Take a look inside this walkable oasis filled with patios, local shops, and plenty of shade.

Walkable neighborhoods are increasing. In a country ruled by automobiles, many millennials and Gen Zers are willing to spend more to live in a community where it’s easy to get around without a vehicle, according to a 2023 study by the National Association of Realtors.

Enter Culdesac, the fledgling Arizona block that’s making a name for itself as the “first car-free neighborhood built from the ground up in the United States.”

Located in Tempe, home of Arizona State University, Culdesac is a car-free community. It has been a project in the works since 2018. Last year, the neighborhood opened to residents. Now, 200 people live on the 17-acre block, a company representative told Business Insider. Eventually, Culdesac plans to house 1,000 residents.

As a New Yorker without a car, Culdesac intrigued me. So on a recent trip to Arizona, I visited the car-free neighborhood and thought it looked like an urban oasis in suburban Phoenix.

Culdesac is located in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

Culdesac is in Tempe, Arizona.
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The neighborhood is located on the east side of Tempe, just 10 miles from Phoenix.

I recently took a private tour and had the opportunity to chat with the CEO.

CEO and co-founder Ryan Johnson lives in Culdesac.
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During my visit, I met with CEO and co-founder Ryan Johnson. After years of working in the real estate and transportation industries, and traveling to walkable locations around the world, he was inspired to create a car-free neighborhood.

From New York City to Budapest, Johnson says his travels sparked a passion for cities.

“I saw those places and said, ‘Wow, this is a much better way to build a city, with thoughtful architecture and great transportation systems,'” he told BI.

Johnson added that advances in the transportation industry, from ride-sharing apps to public transportation systems to electric bikes, have made car-free living possible in places like Arizona.

Johnson, who grew up in Phoenix and currently lives in Culdesac, hasn’t owned a car in 14 years.

Around the property I saw electric bicycles and scooters.

Electric bicycles parked in Culdesac.
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Visitors and delivery drivers can park their cars in Culdesac, but residents cannot.

The company representative told BI that for residents with cars, “it is regulated through their lease that they will not park on site or on any public street within 0.25 miles.”

Some residents park their cars elsewhere in Tempe, while others, like Johnson, don’t have a vehicle at all. Residents get around on foot, by bicycle, electric bicycle and electric scooter. The neighborhood has more than 1,000 parking spaces for bicycles.

One Culdesac resident previously told BI that living without a car can be a challenge outside the neighborhood, as the surrounding city was built for vehicles.

However, according to the company’s website, Culdesac offers residents a mobility package worth almost $3,000 a year to facilitate transportation. Includes a free Valley Metro pass for light rail through Phoenix and Tempe and discounts on ride-sharing apps like Lyft and Waymo, a driverless taxi service.

My tour began in the square.

Culdesac Plaza in Tempe.
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The square, located in front of the neighborhood’s light rail stop, is the communal center of Culdesac. It is marked by a sculpture by artist Matthew Salenger that doubles as a canopy.

There are games, shaded tables and weekly events here.

A ping-pong table in the square.
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Every Thursday night, Culdesac hosts Little Cholla, an open-air public night market with music, street vendors, food trucks, art, and activities like line dancing and yoga.

There is also a two-story gym.

Inside the gym.
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A two-story building on the plaza with giant windows houses the neighborhood gym. It offers exercise classes and is packed with equipment.

In front of the square there are local businesses run by residents.

A showcase in Culesac.
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From second-hand clothing to exclusive tableware and candles, there are many local shops in Culdesac.

According to the company’s website, there are about 11 micro stores, including a market, a laundromat, a medical spa, an art studio and a plant store.

These micro-merchants have the option of living in their workspace.

A look inside a microstore.
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The company representative told BI that small business owners in Culdesac are residents, and some even live in their stores thanks to a zoning permit that allows them to do so.

All tents have kitchens and bathrooms, and some have bedrooms.

Steps from the square, the neighborhood has a restaurant with outdoor tables.

Chiwas Kitchen is a restaurant on the property.
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In April 2023, Cocina Chiwa de Culdesac opened. It is a family-owned Mexican restaurant serving Chihuahuan cuisine.

As I walked along the communal paths, I noticed that Culdesac was not as hot as the surrounding streets. That’s because there is no asphalt on the property.

A wide, shady path in the neighborhood.
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It’s no secret that the Phoenix area is hot, sometimes dangerously hot in the summers. That’s why Culdesac was built to keep pedestrians cool without asphalt, a road material that gets hotter in the sun.

In residential areas the hallways are narrow.

The roads lead to the residents’ homes.
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Culdesac intentionally placed the buildings together to create as much shade as possible.

The color of the buildings is not a coincidence either. Culdesac chose white because it reflects sunlight rather than absorbing it.

Between the residential buildings there are patios with grills, tables, hammocks and fire pits.

A patio in the residential area.
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More than half of the entire property is open and landscaped space.

Culdesac has apartments ranging from studios to three-bedroom floor plans.

Inside one of the units.

Culdesac currently has 172 units. More will open in the fall and the neighborhood will eventually have 760 units.

Studios start at $1,300 a month, one-bedrooms are $1,400, two-bedrooms are $2,100 and three-bedrooms are $2,900 a month.

On the outer edge of Culdesac there is a bike shop with tune-up services.

Inside the Archer bike shop.
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Archer’s Bike Shop sells manual and electric bikes. And Culdesac residents get complementary services and discounts on products.

Culdesac seems like a place where people can not only live without cars but also get to know their neighbors.

The Culdesac Leasing Office.
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After my visit to Culdesac, I spoke with Brad Biehl, a 24-year-old resident of Colombus, Ohio. Biehl has lived in the neighborhood for six months. He said one of the best parts of living there is the sense of community.

“Typically we’re in environments where we walk from the door to the car and from the car to the location,” Biehl said. “But here, to go anywhere, I usually walk past at least two or three of my neighbors, even when I’m walking to the light rail around the corner.”

Biehl added that he is optimistic about the future of Culdesac as more residents and retailers arrive.

“Although there are not many people here yet, there is a lot more going on than I would have expected,” he told BI. “The number of serendipitous interactions that have taken place with a limited number of residents makes me very excited about what people will experience here.”