Monday, November 1, 2010

The Roots and Origins of New Urbanism

By Houshmand E. Masoumi

New Urbanism is one of the most important approaches of the Neo-Traditional Development flow. Although New Urbanism looks almost new, it has roots in late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the early 1980s, Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk as two of the early leaders of the New Urbanism movement conducted a research on the urban form and architectural characteristics of the late nineteenth and twentieth century settlements of the east and northeast of America. It was before starting to work on the master plan of the most famous planning practice of New Urbanism: Seaside, Florida.
They extracted the main characteristics and formulated them as a number of guidelines, which in 1990s were developed into New Urbanism principles by the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU).

Howard’s Garden City

The works of Duany and Plater-Zyberk along with Katz, Molle, Polizoides, Corbett, and others were quite influential in the formation of New Urbanism. Some believe that the idea of such neo-traditionalism was gotten from the first two decades of the twentieth century. As the most influential, Garden City movement was the main pattern of New Urbanist way of thinking.
The 6000-acre Garden City that Ebenezer Howard introduced in his well-known book: Garden Cities of To-morrow in 1902 was influenced by the neighborhood unit of Clarence Perry. The schools were the center of the neighborhood so that the children could easily go to school and get back. Garden City had important Anglo-American features like communality, mobility, individualism, and safety of children which can also be seen in New Urbanism (Lang, 1994).
A Garden City of 66000 acres for 250000 residents

Other Roots

Another source of inspiration of the New Urbanism was the City Beautiful movement. The City Beautiful movement idea originally comes from the neoclassical architectural movement of Beaux Arts (Municipal Arts) in the nineteenth-century France.
Although the shape of the buildings in Beaux Arts architecture is different from the new urban architecture, but there are similarities between the two movements. Human relationships, environmentalism, landscape architecture, and green spaces are basic features of City Beautiful. This is the point that some scholars think that it can be the starting point of the humanist ideology of New Urbanism.

San Francisco - Civic Center: Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, a good example of City Beautiful movement's works, Image by Walley Gobetz

Many critics of New Urbanism believe that unlike its name, it is not so “new”. As we see in this article, the ideas are not new. However, the views that the new urbanists have, by which they try to change the form of the sprawling cities of the United States, look fresh to many people.


Civic Center: Civic Center Park - Voorhies Memorial in Denver in another examples of City Beautiful. image by Wally Gobetz

 More readings on New Urbanism:

neo-traditional development: a post modern way in urban design

What Andres Duany and Peter Calthrope Beieved in 1995

Designing Community: The Utopia of New Urbanism




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