A handful of people were already gathered around the stone fountain in Glastonbury center when a family of four parked on Main Street and walked to a table in the summer sunset to enjoy their burgers and fries.

Nearby, a husband and wife from East Hartford sipped smoothies and an elderly couple looked out onto Hebron Avenue, where several restaurants, some with outdoor dining, have opened in recent years along a walkable one-block stretch. A young man was writing at a table near the fountain.

This is village life in a town that decades ago demolished most of its traditional downtown buildings, replacing them with newer shopping plazas, small malls and standalone structures, each with its own parking places. Now, like many towns with a sprawling business district, Glastonbury is working to restore its center as a walkable place where people can gather, complete with color-coded signs showing walking routes.

"It's kind of fun to be in the midst of things," said a man who gave his name as Travis, as his family set up to eat.

But it's only fun to a point. Travis and his wife, Laura, chose Glastonbury six years ago in part because the developing downtown scene is quieter than the bustle of West Hartford Center. "That might make it too crazy," Laura said. "You want restaurants, but at the same time, it's nice not to be in an urban environment."

With that view, they and their baby son and 4-year-old daughter, Maddie, make a point that's both powerful and subtle when it comes to how people in Connecticut communities want to live. More than our suburban parents and grandparents did, we want communal life with elements of a city or city-like setting, we want places near enough that we can walk to eat, shop and see people, and we want to live in towns that keep car-dominated, sprawling developments under control.

These hopes and dreams aren't new. A yearning by millions of people to live and enjoy life in dense clusters of offices, stores, restaurants and apartments has driven a return to central cities and the construction of such multi-use developments as West Hartford's Blue Back Square in the past few decades.

That's the powerful, long-term trend. And as the Glastonbury picture makes clear, the lifestyles people want are different from one place to another.

And so cities and towns are responding, finally, in a wide variety of ways — not just with ambitious projects such as New Haven's redevelopment of the Route 34 spur that destroyed a neighborhood a half-century ago, but also with small changes that make a difference in a one-block zone.

Call it a new wave of the new urbanism that led to a resurgence of cities in the 1980s and 1990s. Instead of reflecting an all-or-nothing desire for an urban lifestyle, in this wave it's happening on a small scale, in many places.

It is a new zoning code in Canton and Simsbury that emphasizes the look of buildings, not their use.

It is cooperation in Avon, where a store leasing a small, former Ensign Bickford factory building sponsors a community event on the lawn by a parking lot in the middle of town.

It is the decision to construct new stores and offices with the narrow end of the building close to the road and parking along the side — more pedestrian-friendly than a strip mall that's set back with parking out front.

Or, as in Manchester, it is the redevelopment of a failed shopping plaza on a now-vacant,18-acre parcel with the hope of creating a district with a little bit of everything, tied to nearby walking/biking/jogging trails.

"It all comes back to the notion of quality of life," said Richard Martz, vice president of LiveWorkLearnPlay, a Montreal-based development firm with significant work in Connecticut, including the Route 34 project in New Haven. "And that means something different to different people. ... The suburbs are not going away, but I think there's an understanding that there's a new way to service these suburbs."

A New Wave Gains Momentum

At the moment the Glastonbury scene unfolded last week, a crowd had gathered in downtown Hartford for the first night of Infinity Music Hall, part of the Front Street food and entertainment district that was backed by tens of millions of state taxpayer dollars. It was the "soft opening," a day before the grand opening with dignitaries.

Infinity Hall owner Dan Hincks was working the crowd as the wait staff worked out kinks and the local band West End Blend inaugurated the 500-seat hall.

I told Hincks, after I tried the restaurant fare, that he should follow the Hartford Downtown Dwellers page on Facebook. On that site, more than 1,000 people who live in apartments downtown discuss and argue about everything from parking rules to new restaurants to overflowing trash bins to dog-walking to the planned baseball stadium.

Hincks took note. That's the sort of pulse Hincks and his team need to tap into if they want to fit in as an institution for downtown Hartford and beyond. The conversation is a key component of what makes the new wave more than just a collection of reconfigured streets and buildings.