Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Creating Wealth: Revitalization and Gentrification

Charles Buki, Michael Pyatok, Ed Robbins

We are concerned that New Urbanism overstates the impact design can have. As presently marketed, New Urbanism comes perilously close to implying that the culprit at fault for places like Robert Taylor Homes and Lafayette Courts is bad design. As sold to the public, New Urbanism teeters on the edges of irresponsible architecture by paying lip service to the fact that environmental determinism has limits and that physical housing conditions alone cannot change the social conditions of residents. We say this not as bystanders on the sidelines of the design profession, but as informed believers in the power of good design whose experiences are in the trenches of community development. We say this as some among the converted who strongly believe New Urbanism can indeed make a powerful contribution to the larger effort to build a better urban environment and civil society, but that to do so first requires knowing where the limits of design and planning to influence our lives in fact are.

By arguing that their designs provide the basis for overcoming sprawl, generating community revitalization, and creating a more civil society, the New Urbanists are bound to their forebears by their faith in their own all encompassing vision for a design of a better world. From Ebenezer Howard to Le Corbusier, from Garnier to the designers of Thamesmead, architects have offered their particular and exclusive solutions to the social and cultural problems that naturally accompany urbanism. We find it ironic that, even as the New Urbanists dramatically reject modernist designs for the city by emphasizing more traditional visions of urban place, they share with many of the modernists the dogma that emphasizes the importance of design in overcoming social ills and creating economic value and social good.

The history of architecture, however, is littered with the plans and designs of those who claimed to have the answer to such problems: plans and designs that the New Urbanists now reject with their own one dimensional answer. We are thus justifiably distressed by assertions from many New Urbanists that their architecture and planning addresses the real issues at stake. We simply cannot ignore the fact that millions of residents of the most banal suburbia imaginable lead productive lives.

Thamesmead, photo by joseph beuys hat
Thamesmead, photo by SkyDivedParcel

read similar articles:

Short online articles: Urban Environment and Sustainability: How It Is Affected by Urban Form

Short online articles: New Urbanism: An Alternative to Urban Sprawl

New Urbanism, Smart Growth, & Andres Duany: A Critique From Suburbia

18th New Urbanist Congress: Best Ever?

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