EQUALLY IMPORTANT AS THE DEFINITION OF URBAN IS A DISCUSSION ON NEW Urbanism. There are varying schools of thought regarding how communities are designed, structured, laid out and organized; however you want to describe it. New Urbanism is the underlying philosophy behind the way planning is done practically and why. It is not an absolute and need not apply to every situation; but for new developments, communities or redesigns, it can direct planners, policy makers, residents and architects towards a direction which focuses on development for people, not automobiles. This will be the position my writing will predominantly come from.
Then what is it? New Urbanism by design seeks to create mixed-used neighborhood development with a wide range of housing and job choices which promotes walkable, compact and transit-oriented livable streets.1 The design favors the use of trains and light rail over highways and roads in order to affirm a human-scaled public realm of pedestrian friendly communities of work places, housing, schools, parks, shops, entertainment and civic facilities, all serving people of diverse ages and income levels.2 New Urbanism is not a hater of automobiles, sprawl or big box stores. Nor is it a nostalgic philology of the good old days in New York where the hustle and bustle of people and street vender business all created a vibrant livable city. The New York City era in this common reference what by historical accounts, NOT a good time to be alive. Yes, you could walk to work, the park (if there was one), schools, stores and your neighbors, but by necessity not choice. Pre-Automobile days; or Pre-Fordism, were disease ridded and crime-filled, where entire families or even multiple families lived in the same cramped apartment using the same facilities toilet pot. For a time, the automobile did set people free to live in one neighborhood, work in another and visit still another. But we are a fast growing population of multiple diverse cultures and this car-oriented way of living is not sustainable. I’ll end my rant on that note for now since this is a blog about New Urbanism, and save it for another day.
New Urbanism realizes that our population is fast growing and statistically speaking, becoming more urbanized. That’s not necessarily saying that people are favoring cities over small towns and suburbs, even though they might. I don’t want to generalize the public. But it’s saying that as our population grows, cities, small towns and suburbs are growing up and not out. Sprawl development is not a feasible design, nor is it a feasible way to live for a human habitat. Humans need a place to live on this planet and are clearly at a level where we control and steward the environment around us. We have the responsibility to choose a place to carve out for ourselves and urbanized life is the most sustainable and exciting way to do this.
As another caveat, New Urbanism does not mean the end of single-family homes and small town life. Thankfully we also live in a market-based society (Oh good, he’s not a socialist.).
As long as there is a demand for single family homes and a desire for small town life, then it will always be around. New Urbanism is in response to a growing demand for more sustainable development that is efficient with our tax dollars, better design of our streets, safer for pedestrians, bikers and drivers together, easier on the environment and a healthier way to live.
New Urbanism is the most important planning movement this century, and is about creating a better future for us all. It is an international movement to reform the design of the built environment, and is about raising our quality of life and standard of living by creating better places.1
What do you think about New Urbanism? Is it an ideological dream that won’t work in our society? Or is it a desired and much needed revival of neighborhood design which works to better our quality of life?
1 New Urbanism. New Urbanism. [online] Available at: http://www.newurbanism.org/newurbanism.html [Accessed 12 January 2012].
2 The Congress for the New Urbanism, 2011. What is CNU. [online] Available at: http://www.cnu.org/who_we_are [Accessed 12 January, 2012].