Wednesday, March 9, 2011

New Urbanism and Planning History: Back to the Future

by Christopher Silver

At the annual conference of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning held in Atlanta in November 2000, the session which drew by far the largest attendance was architect Andreas Duany’s presentation on New Urbanism. Those in attendance were treated to an animated and at times vitriolic attack on planners, not unlike the vinegary verbal assaults Jane Jacobs dished out in the early 1960s in The Death and Life of Great American Cities and in her many reviews, essays and public presentations on planning. Both Duany and Jacobs decried the lack of consideration of human scale in the products of modernists, and challenged planners to revise the rules of development to safeguard vibrant urban places. What was distinctive about Duany’s critique was that he celebrated a variety of community designers and builders while bashing the ordinary planners as regulators. He contended in his Atlanta presentation, like he has in other writings, that the period prior to World War II (especially during the 1920s) was a golden era in community design and development. Planning was less institutionalized, subdivision regulations were based upon tradition rather than formulas, and community design schemes were the visionary products of landscape architects, architects and planning consultants given broad latitude by their private developer clients. New uniform community design standards perpetuated by the Federal Housing Administration beginning in the 1940s, coupled with the impact of the federal highway program on residential dispersal, created an automobile-dependent residential fabric devoid of interconnectedness and lacking civic virtue. Duany urged the Atlanta audience to look backward for best practices and to revise the development rules for the future, to recapture lost elements from past planning as an antidote to sprawl.
What the New Urbanists offer, according to Duany, is a set of principles and range of development models to guide public policy, development practice, urban planning and design in order to reduce sprawl. New Urbanists regard the metropolis as the fundamental economic unit of the contemporary world, but see it is a finite place with clear edges that separate its inhabitants from farmlands, watersheds, open spaces and river basins. Development practices should sustain the metropolis as a whole through infill development and redevelopment that takes precedence over peripheral expansion.

Middleton Hills, Wisconsin: planned by DPZ, photo by Mulad  
Middleton Hills, Wisconsin: planned by DPZ, photo by Mulad
more about New Urbanism:

In Markham, the dream of an urban village that never was

New Urbanism: A Salve or Bane to Urban Wounds?

From Suburb to City: An Opportunity Born of Necessity

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