When Mary Emery conceived of Mariemont in the early 1920s, her goal reached beyond simply creating a wonderful suburban community. She wanted to create a “National Exemplar,” a planned community that could inspire developers to stop building dysfunctional subdivisions scattered haphazardly around the edges of America’s cities.

Despite the success of Mariemont, few developers embraced the principles of good planning on the scale of Mariemont. After World War II, the mad rush to the “crabgrass frontier” resulted in housing tracts that inspired the pop lyrics, “Little boxes on the hillside, Little boxes made of ticky-tacky…Little boxes, all the same.” The completion of Interstate 275 in the early 1970s simply extended these trends into Boone, Butler and Warren Counties, turning cornfields into individually beautiful homes and nice subdivisions, but not elements of coherent communities. 

That was certainly the situation in the case of Fairfield in southern Butler County. Over the course of 60 years, Fairfield mushroomed from an unincorporated farming community of 6,200 people into a suburban city of over 42,500. Growth resulted in the development of dozens of subdivisions, office clusters, manufacturing and retail areas strung out along Route 4, US 127 and Winton Road that had little relationship to each other, much less a coherent whole. 

The bottom line was that by 1995 Fairfield was an economically successful center that lacked a soul and suffered from having “no there, there.”

In 1998 the Fairfield City Council hired Arthur Pizzano as city manager. Pizzano had formal training in urban planning from Rutgers University and practical experience in Thornton, Colo., and East Orange, N. J., as well as experience as the city manager of West Des Moines, Iowa. 

Pizzano immediately recognized the problem and set about creating a community center that could provide functional and cultural coherence, if not rationalize all the disparate developments. The focus was on transforming a 300-acre cornfield at the end of Wessel Drive west of Route 127 into the Fairfield Village Green. 

The Community Green is a wonderfully planned city center that is organized around a large green space that features a pond with fountains and stone footbridges. Bronze sculptures enliven the space. “Summer Showers” by George Lundeen is particularly fun, featuring six mischievous children playing with water hoses awaiting any unsuspecting grandmother pushing a baby carriage. An amphitheater for musical performances and outdoor movies sits in the midst of the sculpted green. 

On one corner of the Green stands the spacious and comfortable Fairfield Lane Public Library, while on the other side is the new 40,000-square-foot, professionally managed Community Arts Center. With studios, classrooms, a 250-seat theater and fitness facilities, the center offers everything from classes in playwriting and acting to spinning workouts. 

Facing the Green on the east side is a shopping area anchored by a new Symmes Tavern on the Green, the historic gathering place for the community. Kroger’s and other stores in a strip mall face away from the green. On the southwest side are about 100 modest homes that are situated to allow the residents to walk to the new village center. On summer evenings, the Green is filled with people strolling, eating ice cream and relaxing. 

A number of suburban areas have built community centers. But the Fairfield Village Green is the most expansive and successful local attempt to respond to the age-old challenge of rebalancing previously incoherent American suburban development.