Thursday, June 18, 2009

Gentrification and New Urbanism

The Daily Kos ran an article this week called A Tale of Two (Segregated) Exurbs which was a critique of an article titled A Tale of of Two Exurbs which was published in The American Prospect Magazine. The Daily Kos goes one step beyond The American Prospect article in explaining the difference between the two exurbs, one which is sprawling exurb and the other a compact exurb designed by the founder of New Urbanism, Andres Duany.

The issue the article has with the Duany developed New Urbanist exurb is it's susceptibility toward the big "G" word, gentrification. The author feels like I often feel that the theory of New Urbanism is a great but the implementation often results in displacement of the lower class or rapidly increasing property values. Although I do have to say that I dont necessarily agree with this for the article's specific example of Gaithersburg, Maryland which I do feel is economically and socially diverse.

While I think the article's example is flawed I do believe it's message and intent is worth discussing. Here's a swipe from the article:

"Gaithersburg was designed by Duany Plater-Zyrbek, the nation’s leading firm in New Urbanist urban design. New Urbanism is kind of like a good, liberal-minded person’s vision of an urban utopia: mixed-use land zoning, local neighborhood stores and shops, extreme walkability, eco-friendly, and on and on. In short, New Urbanism is the urban planning/urban design alternative to suburban sprawl. A pretty good alternative, at least in theory.

The dirty little secret about Duany and New Urbanism is the design’s susceptibility to gentrification. A quaint little town with a thriving local economy is undoubtedly a hot commodity among young, affluent white folks. An influx in affluent folks typically precipitates raises in rents and property values, often resulting in lower-class displacement. Such is the potential effect of New Urbanism. It’s actually a little more than mere susceptibility to gentrification—Duany has been quoted in interviews pondering "What’s so bad with gentrification?" He even argued that the arrival of higher-income residents is what some urban communities need.

But there’s something peculiar—or, suspicious—about a discussion of New Urbanism (an urban design susceptible to gentrification) that fails to mention racial or class diversity (a major casualty of gentrification). In our quest for walkable, eco-friendly built environments, are we willing to concede racial diversity?"

Now I know this will look like I'm beating up on the theory of New Urbanism...again. I really want to like New Urbanism, I really, really do but all of it's greatest examples seem economically exclusionary and not very diverse. As you can tell from looking at this blog, I love cities and urban places because of their diversity, hodgepodge of ideas and it's quilted layers of history. New Urbanism seems like a whitewash of that. As for Duany's quote about importing wealth and not creating wealth in cities, I'll get to that in another post.

I have scratched my head over this issue several times but keep drawing blanks. Is there any way to create a New Urbanist project in an urban area while mixing low income residents with higher-income residents. Or can the goal of new Urbanist project help reconnect or foster growth from within the community without having to lure some outside force to "improve" the neighborhood.

Maybe New Urbanist projects are a victim of their own success. The problem with gentrification is that you can not stop it. Once a neighborhood tips towards being trendy the escalation of newcomers as well as the character of the neighborhood is dramatic. The only neighborhoods where an outside culture comes in that does not create instant gentrification are artist communities. While these communities eventually become gentrified it may take decades before long time residents feel pressured out by property values and the character of the neighborhood is never fully erased...in fact artists often enhance the positive qualities of neighborhoods.

Whatever the solution is we can see that there is a trend between New Urbanist projects and gentrification. Let's hope New Urbanism does not become our generation's new Urban Renewal projects.

4 comments:

Kyle said...

Ran across your blog while searching New Urbanism. I like your perspective. I live in an area in Dallas that's about to see some significant redevelopment. This area has been a very good mix of incomes, races, artists, etc. for a long time and has resisted what you're concerned about. But with recent leveling of some low cost housing communities the New Urbanism cometh. I'm afraid Oak Cliff is about to change as we know it.

ExaminedLife said...

"Is there any way to create a New Urbanist project in an urban area while mixing low income residents with higher-income residents.?"

NO

There is a reason that they chose Seaside,Florida (The New Urbanism Shangri-La) as the setting for THE TRUMAN SHOW.

BC Planning said...

Kyle, Dalls has built a number of huge urban projects over the years and seem to be proposing more. While they seem to be successful I couldnt help but think that some of the brick designs I have seen seem more suitable for the Northeast then for Texas. I wish New Urbanist styles were a little bit more varied as far as architectural styles.

BC Planning said...

ExaminedLife, I kind of feel the same way but I just wanted to throw the question out there for someone else to show me a postive example before I scrap the whole concept of New Urbanism just as a nice theory.