New Urbanism

“The costs of suburban sprawl are all around us—they’re visible in the creeping deterioration of once proud neighborhoods, the increasing alienation of large segments of society, a constantly rising crime rate, and widespread environmental degradation.” 

New Urbanism New Urbanism

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Table of contents

    Peter Katz, The New Urbanism: Toward an Architecture of Community1

    Peter Katz was one of the main advocates of New Urbanism in the 1990s. Katz's book and the works of other urban planners, architects, and local leaders inspired the canons and principles of the New Urbanism movement. But what is the New Urbanism movement? We'll discuss the movement and the designs that inspire it.

    New Urbanism Definition

    New Urbanism is a movement of practices and principles that promote walkable, mixed-use, diverse, and highly dense neighborhoods. The goal of New Urbanism design is to create places where communities can meet and interact in public spaces or on the street. Through reduced car use, walking and cycling to destinations can foster interaction while reducing negative environmental and traffic effects.1

    New Urbanism Principles

    The Congress for New Urbanism, an organization that speaks for the movement, has a charter that defines its principles. These principles are driven by smart-growth designs and can be applied at the street, neighborhood, and regional levels.2

    Mixed-Use Development and Walkability

    Designating areas for single-use has resulted in residential, commercial, cultural, and institutional locations being located far apart from each other. If the distance is so far that it discourages public transit use, walking, or cycling, then car dependency is the likely outcome.

    As a solution, mixed land use or mixed-use development zones for multiple destinations in a building, street, or neighborhood. The proximity of different locations to each other, with safe pedestrian infrastructure, encourages walking and reduces car use.

    New Urbanism Mixed Use in Montreal New Urbanism Principles StudySmarterFig. 1 - Mixed Use in Montreal

    The principle is that the street and public places are shared spaces where community-building can occur. Spontaneous interactions and events are more likely to occur if the infrastructure encourages them. Street design should be comfortable, safe, and interesting to pedestrians.

    Transit Oriented Development

    Transit oriented development is the planning of new construction within a 10-minute walk of public transit stations, usually with higher density and mixed land use. This ensures public transit is used frequently and can compete with cars on shorter trips. Otherwise, traffic congestion will worsen, reducing speeds and productivity.

    This is based on the principle that most daily activities should be within walking distance and not require a car. Requiring a car disadvantages those who can't or don't drive, specifically the young and elderly. Further, grid design increases interconnections between streets which allows for more efficiency in walking to destinations.

    Inclusion and Diversity

    A diversity of incomes, housing types, races, and ethnicities should also be planned. To do this, affordable housing options should be considered. For instance, instead of zoning for only single-family construction, which is often expensive, zoning that includes apartments, multi-family homes, duplexes, and townhomes can be more affordable and allow different types of people to live in a community.

    Zoning only for single-family homes dates back to policies that excluded lower-income and minority groups from purchasing homes. Single-family housing is on average bigger, more expensive, and requires access to different financial services and products.

    New Urbanism Middle Housing Types New Urbanism Principles StudySmarterFig. 2 - Middle Housing Types

    "Middle housing" (apartments, multi-family homes, duplexes, and townhomes) used to be a common housing type before the expansion of single-family suburbs. This kind of housing is affordable for middle- and lower-income families and can be planned in New Urbanism form.3

    Additionally, affluent suburbs are unlikely to incorporate with lower and middle-income towns and cities, even if they depend on those areas for jobs and services. This creates a disproportionate share of tax revenue for higher-income areas. Cooperative tax revenue can allow for equal distribution of funds for transportation, affordable housing, and other services.

    Avoiding Placelessness

    The rise of placelessness is also concerning for new urbanists. Placeless areas arise from the inauthentic design and construction of places, usually as a technique to cut costs and create uniformity. Geographer Edward Relph coined the term placelessness as a way of criticizing these areas which have lost their diversity and significance. Some examples include strip malls, shopping malls, gas stations, fast food restaurants, etc.

    The rise of these places in cities and suburbs reduces the inherent value of the location. For instance, a copy-paste strip mall does not inspire or reflect the character of the local people, traditions, or culture. New urbanists believe both the aesthetic of buildings and the purpose of these destinations should do better to represent communities.

    History of New Urbanism

    New Urbanism arose as a solution to issues in suburban development patterns, auto-centric transportation, and the decline of cities.

    From Cities to Suburbs

    Beginning in the 1940s, the US experienced an increase in single-family housing construction, spurred by the accessibility of government-backed private home loans. The demand for suburban housing created sprawling developments across the US – otherwise known as the suburbs. In combination with cheaper vehicles and highway construction, suburban living took over both rural and urban areas.

    When families moved to the suburbs, cities lost population, tax revenue, businesses, and investment. However, there were significant socio-political events taking place that drove this phenomenon. As Black workers and families moved out of rural Southern regions and into cities during the Great Migration, white flight, redlining, and blockbusting also shaped the demographics of suburbs and cities.

    Millions of Black residents moved from the South to the North and West into cities in search of jobs and better opportunities beginning in the early 20th century. As Black residents moved into cities, many white residents left due to racial tensions and growing opportunities in the suburbs (otherwise known as white flight). Redlining, blockbusting practices, racial covenants, and racial violence left minority residents with few options in the housing market, usually confined to areas in inner cities.

    This racial turnover transformed cities across the US. Financial discrimination prevented investment in inner cities leading to lower property values and reduced services (primarily for minority and low-income communities). Urban renewal projects were proposed by the federal government as a solution to these issues. However, in most cases funds were used to benefit new suburban commuters through luxury malls, universities, and highways. Minority and low-income neighborhoods in US cities were targeted for demolition, displacing over a million US residents in less than three decades.4

    Rise of New Urbanism

    Most housing construction in the US is centered on low-density, land-use separations, and car-dependency which further exacerbate sprawl.5 Beginning in the 1980s, New Urbanism took aim at social and spatial segregation, with proposals for new community development projects for cities and suburbs alike.

    The Congress for New Urbanism was founded in 1993 by urban planners, architects, community leaders, and activists. There are notable influences to the movement including The City Beautiful movement, the Garden City movement, and Jane Jacob’s book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

    The City Beautiful movement emphasized the importance of public spaces, parks, and transit-oriented development to bring order back into “chaotic” industrial cities. Many of the ideas came from the Beaux Arts architecture school in France, inspiring most suburban development projects in the US between the 1890s and 1920s.1

    New Urbanism US Capitol History of New Urbanism StudySmarterFig. 3 - The US Capitol; The planners of the National Mall visited historic European cities and took inspiration from the City Beautiful movement

    The Garden City movement began with Ebenezer Howard’s vision of “village life” on the fringe of cities, with the preservation of green spaces and parks in and around residential and commercial areas. The Regional Planning Association of America took up this idea but with a focus on suburban life over the connection to urban places.

    Finally, Jane Jacob’s book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), was exemplary in defining the importance of civic life through mixed-land use and the use of streets for pedestrians and cyclists.7 Although Jacobs had no formal training in architecture and urban planning, her compiled work has inspired many in the New Urbanism movement.

    Slow Progress

    Although the New Urbanism movement has inspired projects in Europe, progress in the US has been stalled in deference to suburban sprawl and automobile dependency. This can be traced back to the beginning of US urban planning and its leaning toward free-market solutions in housing and commercial construction. In the short term, the high demand for single-family homes is a lucrative business strategy for both cities and real estate markets. In the long term, it leads to unrestricted sprawl that damages the environment, segregates people and destinations, and prevents more civic projects from taking place.4

    Urban design and planning are public and slow processes that require an understanding of local community needs. The long-term public interest requires long-term planning, which so far has been not been prioritized at the political, financial, or housing arenas in the US.

    New Urbanism Examples

    Although New Urbanism has been discussed for almost half a century, the application of its design has taken longer to implement at the city and regional levels. However, there are notable examples of small-scale plans taking place.

    Seaside, Florida

    The first city built entirely on New Urbanist principles is Seaside, Florida. Seaside is a privately-owned community, allowing developers to write their zoning codes that followed some New Urbanism methods. For instance, homes are built to be aesthetically unique and appear to belong to the place. The commercial area is within walking distance of residential homes, with pedestrian priority and open green spaces.

    However, Seaside is unaffordable for many and only has 350 homes within the community. The majority are single-family and are marketed for high-income earners. It's still an inspiration for other beach towns that want to attract residents and tourists.

    Mueller, Austin, Texas

    Mueller is a community in Northeast Austin that's been planned using New Urbanist methods. Mixed-use areas with diverse housing options have resulted in 35% of housing units meeting affordability standards.6 Numerous parks are located throughout neighborhoods and walkability is possible for residents living there. Notably, local minority groups in the community were a major part of the planning processes.

    New Urbanism Texas Farmers Market Mueller New Urbanism Examples StudySmarterFig. 4 - Texas Farmers Market in Mueller, Texas (2016)

    New Urbanism Pros and Cons

    New Urbanism has been widely discussed for both its positives and negatives. New Urbanism has inspired planners and designers to implement smart-growth policies, a series of growth strategies the US Environmental Protection Agency supports.5 Furthermore, it reduces sprawl and promotes more planning of socio-spatial relationships.

    New Urbanism is not without criticism, however. Sprawling communities, even if they are more walkable, may not see reduced car use even with New Urbanist policies. Also, community development does not only occur at the design level but in combination with other social programs and civic engagement.4 Although affordable housing is a principle, not all new urbanist projects have made it a priority. However, current sprawling development does far more damage to the environment and has historically excluded many more groups from homeownership.

    New Urbanism is a way to move forward in the growth and development of towns and cities. Rather than it being an all-encompassing answer to problems of affordability, environmental degradation, and exclusivity, it can provide steps that inspire communities to move towards solving these issues.

    New Urbanism - Key takeaways

    • New Urbanism is a movement of practices and principles that promote walkable, mixed-use, diverse, and demographically dense neighborhoods.
    • New Urbanism principles include mixed-use development, transit-oriented development, walkability, inclusion and diversity, and preventing placelessness.
    • New Urbanism arose out of dissatisfaction with and concern about the deterioration of inner cities, lack of options outside of single-family suburban housing, and car dependency.
    • New Urbanism has inspired planners and designers to implement smart-growth policies across the US.

    References

    1. Fulton, W. The New Urbanism: Hope or Hype for American Communities? Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. 1996.
    2. Congress for the New Urbanism. Charter of the New Urbanism. 2000.
    3. Better Housing Together. "Middle Housing = Housing Options." https://www.betterhousingtogether.org/middle-housing.
    4. Ellis, C. The New Urbanism: Critiques and Rebuttals. Journal of Urban Design. 2002. 7(3), 261-291. DOI: 10.1080/1357480022000039330.
    5. Garde, A. New Urbanism: Past, Present, and Future. Urban Planning. 2020. 5(4), 453-463. DOI: 10.17645/up.v5i4.3478.
    6. Congress for the New Urbanism. Project Database: Mueller, Austin, Texas.
    7. Jacobs, J. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Random House. 1961.
    8. Fig. 1: Mixed Use in Montreal, Canada (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Square_Phillips_Montreal_50.jpg), by Jeangagnon (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Jeangagnon), licensed by CC-BY-SA-4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)
    9. Fig. 4: Texas Farmers Market in Mueller, Austin (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Texas_Farmers_Market_at_Mueller_Austin_2016.jpg), by Larry D. Moore (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Nv8200p), licensed by CC-BY-SA-4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)
    Frequently Asked Questions about New Urbanism

    What is new urbanism?

    New Urbanism is a movement of practices and principles that promote walkable, mixed-use, diverse, and highly dense neighborhoods.

    What is an example of new urbanism?

    An example of new urbanism is mixed-land use and transit-oriented development, urban designs which promote walkability through high-density construction and multi-use zoning.  

    What are the three goals of new urbanism?

    The three goals of new urbanism include walkability, community-building, and avoiding placelessness. 

    Who invented new urbanism?

    New Urbanism is a movement created by urban planners, designers, and architects, 

    What are the cons of new urbanism?

    The cons of new urbanism are that designs may not work in already sprawled areas. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What is new urbanism?

    Street and public places are shared places where community-building can occur.This is a principle of new urbanism.

    Most daily activities should be within walking distance and not require a car, which disfavors the young and elderly.This is a principle of New Urbanism. 

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