New Urbanism: An Alternative to Urban Sprawl
Houshmand E. Masoumi
New Urbanism is a major type of a general post-modern urban planning and design flow called Neo-Traditional Development (NTD). Along with New Urbanism, other patterns of NTD, like Transit-Oriented Development (TOD), and Urban Village have been introduced during the past three decades.
What is New Urbanism?
The main idea that New Urbanism suggests is creating pedestrian-friendly mixed-use, human-scaled neighborhoods. The houses are within a walking distance of the center of the neighborhoods. The streets shape networks so the resulted structure has high connectivity. Therefore the lengths of the urban travels are shorter than the travels in conventional patterns. Different types of houses can be seen in a new urban neighborhood, because diversity of culture and income is what new urbanists are going to create.
The Principles of New Urbanism
There are different sets of principles that are published as the main regulations of New Urbanism. However, the most cited one is the set that were presented by Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, which is as follows:
- The neighborhood has a discernible center. This is often a square or a green and sometimes a busy or memorable street corner. A transit stop would be located at this center.
- Most of the dwellings are within a five-minute walk of the center, an average of roughly 2,000 feet.
- There are a variety of dwelling types - usually houses, row houses and apartments - so that younger and older people, singles and families, the poor and the wealthy may find places to live.
- At the edge of the neighborhood, there are shops and offices of sufficiently varied types to supply the weekly needs of a household.
- A small ancillary building is permitted within the backyard of each house. It may be used as a rental unit or place to work (e.g., office or craft workshop).
- An elementary school is close enough so that most children can walk from their home.
- There are small playgrounds accessible to every dwelling, not more than a tenth of a mile away.
- Streets within the neighborhood form a connected network, which disperses traffic by providing a variety of pedestrian and vehicular routes to any destination.
- The streets are relatively narrow and shaded by rows of trees. This slows traffic, creating an environment suitable for pedestrians and bicycles.
- Buildings in the neighborhood center are placed close to the street, creating a well-defined outdoor room.
- Parking lots and garage doors rarely front the street. Parking is relegated to the rear of buildings, usually accessed by alleys.
- Certain prominent sites at the termination of street vistas or in the neighborhood center are reserved for civic buildings. These provide sites for community meetings, education, and religious or cultural activities.
- The neighborhood is organized to be self-governing. A formal association debates and decides matters of maintenance, security, and physical change. Taxation is the responsibility of the larger community.
At What Conditions Did New Urbanism Emerge?
The New Urbanism emerged in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s when the first debates about the shortcomings of the urban sprawl in American settlements were rising. The first practiced planning with New Urbanism ideas was Seaside in Florida. This small town was designed and planned by DPZ Company. The designers were Duany and Plater-Zyberk. After they were offered to do the planning job, they conducted a research on the form of the late nineteenth and the early twentieth century towns of east and Northeast of the United States. So they concluded some guidelines to develop the master plan of Seaside. Seaside is still a prominent image of New Urbanism for planners and architects.
New Urbanism Versus Sprawl
The leaders of the New Urbanism movement and the advocates of neo-traditionalism believe that the urban pattern that New Urbanism presents is much more privileged to the one for sprawling suburbs. According to them, New Urbanism produces higher sense of community, less travels by car, less environmental pollutions, etc. Therefore they claim that they have found a good alternative to urban sprawl. Numerous studies have been published on this issue. Of course the urban sprawl has its own followers. Thus a distinct result has not been concluded.
Congress for the New Urbanism
New Urbanism is a well-organized movement. Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) is the official organization of the movement. It has had meetings every year since 1993. Since then, CNU has been a center for conversation about problems like Traditional Neighborhood Design (TND), smart growth, Transit-Oriented Development, and urban sprawl containment. CNU has been always growing during these years and the number of the members and attendances has been higher each year.
New Urbanists have been successful in drawing the attention of urban planners, public media, people, and finally homebuyers. Although it has aroused debates in the last 20 years, but there is a long way to change the form and image of the urban United States or other countries.