Sometimes, new school has an old-school feel. That is the case with the Gray's Station neighborhood that Hubbell Realty Co. envisions for 75 acres of derelict railroad land between Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway and the Raccoon River on the southern fringes of downtown Des Moines.

This is a project with lots of new-school features, including the conversion of land near the river into a wetland that could serve as a demonstration laboratory where school kids could learn about filtering stormwater.

But the new-school idea that called the old days to mind comes from the the planning for 350 single-family homes that will be part of the residential mix in Gray's Station.

Kris Saddoris, vice president of development, described the front-porch neighborhoods of my youth during a presentation Tuesday at a Des Moines Downtown Chamber of Commerce event. (Disclosure statement follows: I participate in a committee that suggests topics for the events, called Downtown DIG, with DIG standing for Development Insights Group.)

Saddoris talked about moving garages to the rear of houses and adorning the sidewalk-side with large front porches. Her conversation bounced my memories right back to my childhood and a house with a wrap-around front porch on an elm-shaded street in Indianola. Two neighbors, Mr. Taylor and Mrs. Kelly to me, lived within a couple of houses, and though they both lived to be more than 100, it was not unusual to find them sitting on a chair on our porch. I learned a lot about the old days from them. My parent's best friends from childhood lived next door. I learned a lot about the old days from them, too.

If a buddy rode by on his bike, I would grab my red Schwinn and the adventure would be on.

The Gray's Station neighborhood would feature narrow streets with sidewalks and bike paths snaking through the area. You could walk or ride across a bridge to Gray's Lake or take a short hike north to the heart of downtown. Those front porches would beckon to passersby.

"We want to get ourselves back to that point where you used to walk down the street and you stopped and had a conversation with your neighbors," Saddoris said. "You can't do that by putting a garage out front and pushing the house to the back." We see plenty of the garage-out-front feature these days.

What Saddoris is describing for Gray's Station has become a pretty common feature of what is called new urbanism. Somewhat condensed areas encourage walkability and interaction. She commented that she had recently returned from a trip to Seaside, Fla., a master planned community located between Destin and Panama City in the Florida panhandle. She took lots of pictures of front-porch neighborhoods. Search Google for new urbanism and you'll likely find a link to Seaside.

Listening to Saddoris, I found a link to the past.