I've been meaning to write this diary for awhile now. Even though we're eyebrows deep in the Silly Season, we should take the time to take a look at other issues that affect us. I hope you'll give my diary and observations a read and offer me some thoughts.
is an American urban design movement that arose in the early 1980s. Its goal is to reform many aspects of real estate development and urban planning, from urban retrofits to suburban infill. New urbanist neighborhoods are designed to contain a diverse range of housing and jobs, and to be walkable.
New Urbanism is also known as traditional neighborhood design, neotraditional neighborhood design, and transit-oriented development.
I of course think this is a great thing. It's a return to the past where we didn't live in sprawling suburbs and we didn't have hour long commutes to jobsites.
The principles are:
Most things within a 10-minute walk of home and work
Pedestrian friendly street design (buildings close to street; porches, windows & doors; tree-lined streets; on street parking; hidden parking lots; garages in rear lane; narrow, slow speed streets)
Pedestrian streets free of cars in special cases
Interconnected street grid network disperses traffic & eases walking
A hierarchy of narrow streets, boulevards, and alleys
High quality pedestrian network and public realm makes walking pleasurable
- Mixed-Use & Diversity
A mix of shops, offices, apartments, and homes on site. Mixed-use within neighborhoods, within blocks, and within buildings
Diversity of people - of ages, income levels, cultures, and races
- Mixed Housing
A range of types, sizes and prices in closer proximity
- Quality Architecture & Urban Design
Emphasis on beauty, aesthetics, human comfort, and creating a sense of place; Special placement of civic uses and sites within community. Human scale architecture & beautiful surroundings nourish the human spirit
- Traditional Neighborhood Structure
Discernable center and edge
Public space at center
Importance of quality public realm; public open space designed as civic art
Contains a range of uses and densities within 10-minute walk
Transect planning: Highest densities at town center; progressively less dense towards the edge. The transect is an analytical system that conceptualizes mutually reinforcing elements, creating a series of specific natural habitats and/or urban lifestyle settings. The Transect integrates environmental methodology for habitat assessment with zoning methodology for community design. The professional boundary between the natural and man-made disappears, enabling environmentalists to assess the
design of the human habitat and the urbanists to support the viability of nature. This urban-to-rural transect hierarchy has appropriate building and street types for each area along the continuum.
- Increased Density
More buildings, residences, shops, and services closer together for ease of walking, to enable a more efficient use of services and resources, and to create a more convenient, enjoyable place to live.
New Urbanism design principles are applied at the full range of densities from small towns, to large cities
- Smart Transportation
A network of high-quality trains connecting cities, towns, and neighborhoods together
Pedestrian-friendly design that encourages a greater use of bicycles, rollerblades, scooters, and walking as daily transportation
Minimal environmental impact of development and its operations
Eco-friendly technologies, respect for ecology and value of natural systems
Less use of finite fuels
More local production
More walking, less driving
- Quality of Life
Taken together these add up to a high quality of life well worth living, and create places that enrich, uplift, and inspire the human spirit.
This is great of course. It's how we should have designed everything after World War II to basically now. I am positive there are more then a few who will disagree with me and I'm not here to tell people suburbs suck or cities rule or cities suck or we should all be small-towners on our bikes. Clearly, that's not feasible in America. However, I do think a lot of angst and thensome would have been alleviated if we chose some of the principles of new urbanism in our planning back then. I mean, have you ever noticed that movies set in the suburbs always seem so negative and full of angst, yet the vast majority of us live there? It's an odd observation.
However I'm going to drop a mild bombshell. There's facets of new urbanism that I don't like.
Here in Harrisburg we have a new development named Capitol Heights. It's an infill project that is aiding in revitilizing the city. There's a mix of home styles but most are 3-story townhouses with garages in the back. Most don't have basements. The houses themselves are modest size which is unusual for new builds. The largest model is 1600 square feet, 500 square feet smaller then the 1920 duplex I grew up in. They're not McMansions on a rowhouse footprint like we see in so many other areas of infill (although there is a builder building those a few blocks away. I actually do like those houses too, but they lack yards.)
I like riding my bike and the bus through this neighborhood. You move through older neighborhoods with large older townhomes, and some blight, and all of a sudden you're in this new development. It bears a high resemblance to Seaside FL, where they filmed The Truman Show. I looked at one a year ago and found they weren't that bad, despite their lack of basements and the high ceilings that seemed to be wasted space.
Neighbors don't like them as they say they changed the demographics of the neighborhood, plus their tax abatement makes older homes harder to sell. Their aesthetics don't fit the historic character of Midtown. And my main criticism of them is their owners are still dependent on their cars. The developer could encourage the addition of a grocery store but has not. Granted, there IS a farmers market about 6 blocks away though but there isn't a lot of mixed use development in the neighborhood or good transit opportunities. Their price is also prohibitive for much of the city's population. When I moved here they started at $140k. They now go somewhere in the $180k range, although the builder is offering fun discounts like TVs and granite countertops for free.
Should sustainability, a big principle of New Urbanism, be only for those who can afford it? I think this seems to be the biggest criticism. I've looked at similar movements that I think are cool, like co-housing, and found they are really more expensive for the average person. Also, the fact that many of the walkable suburbs and transit-oriented development are now hot commodities tells me a lot that we still have a ways to go in the logic of how we zone and develop and lay transit lines. Also, many of these new developments still are greenfield projects, even if the sprawl is controlled--it's still sprawl, especially if the residents need their cars to leave their walkable towns for anything else like work or groceries or whatever.
I don't know, what do you think?