Frank Gruber of the Huffington Post wrote a reflective article about why New Urbanism is so misunderstood as he is about to take part of the 17th Annual Congress for New Urbanism (CNU). The article gives a great refresher to those that are not familiar with the concept of New Urbanism and then dives into the opposing critiques that some have over this relatively new concept.
"Well, to begin with, New Urbanists are attacked from both sides of America's cultural divide. Chances are, if you mention New Urbanism to group of forward thinking, contemporary design professionals, whether architects or planners, they will roll their eyes. To them New Urbanism, because so many of its practitioners make their livings designing new towns and developments outside of existing cities, is a facilitator of sprawl, not a solution. Then, because many of these towns and developments feature traditional architecture, New Urbanism is hopelessly nostalgic.
But if you find yourself among a group of conservatives or libertarians, such as Randal O'Toole of the Independence Institutes's Center for the American Dream, and who writes for the Cato Institute and the Reason Foundation, and you mention New Urbanism, you'll just as likely unleash a denunciation on the grounds that New Urbanism aims to thwart the natural desire of Americans to live in a single-family house on a cul-de-sac. "
My view would definitely fit within the former and certainly do not agree with the latter half of that quote. Sometimes I feel bad for the New Urbanists because I feel their concepts gets co-opted by others who dub bad developments as "New Urbanist" projects to get them approved or sell. On the other hand though, the founders of New Urbanism have built more New Urbanist projects in suburban locales than urban ones. Whether this is just a function of suburban locales having more funds to do a New Urbanist project or just fewer obstacles to get the project done, could be the reason for this disparity.
While many contemporary design professionals think New Urbanism is a facilitator of sprawl, I somewhat disagree. As a planner who's districts covers urban, suburban and rural locales, I think New Urbanist projects can be a positive influence for suburban developments. No matter how much as planners that we dislike sprawl, it is going to happen. I'd rather have a suburban development that is centered with a focus and a grid pattern than an amorphous blob of tract housing that lacks any focal point.
My main beef with New Urbanism is implementation. It's great to have guiding principles but actually putting them in place deals with political, social and economic issues that New Urbanism tends to try to duck away from. My belief is that the bad urban form or our cities and suburbs comes from populations always trying to seek separation from others who have different political, social and economic values. The built form of where the people who seek separation reflects that. Unless we deal those barriers first we will always have communities who seek to rid sidewalks, build streets for cars over the needs of people and seek land use layout that fortify inhabitants from the outside world rather then welcome it. Until that happens you will always have those who state the natural desire for Americans is a suburban cul-de-sac.
What are your thoughts?