By Perry Norton FAICP
It may be a tad bit contrived to set up Garreau v. Duany as a symbol of the conflict, but there is a conflict, a historical one, which is represented by the products which these two have presented.
In Edge City, Garreau looks out and views the post WWII evolution of the built environment in our metropolitan regions: first the outmigration to the Levittowns and the Park Forests, then the auto-oriented shopping malls, then the nice clean electronic ratables and landscaped office parks. He sees a new coalescence of urbanized nodes (e.g., Tysons Corner), the product of free flowing free enterprise, he gives them a name, and he calls it good. He credits it to the deeply rooted good sense of the general public to know what is going to work.
What Garreau touched off was resuscitation of a debate almost as old as the profession itself: sprawl development v. planned development.
We recall our own criticisms of the ticky tacky cookie cutter houses, and the admonitions of Lewis Mumford whose ability to thrill us with his evocation of The City on the Hill which we promptly ignored, dressed in bib overalls, striving to cope with the minutes of the tasks on the table of immediacy.
We visited and marveled at the New Towns of the U.K., and following Welwyn and Letchworth, American planners produced Radbrun. It was followed by the Greenbelt Towns (certainly potential "edge cities"), and then came Columbia, Maryland, and Reston, Virginia. All of these and similar efforts were regularly applauded by those who believed that planned developments were good, and possible. But these planned developments have not metamorphosed into the vibrant, busy, nuclei which Garreau has identified.
At the regional/state level there is a major effort underway in many states to develop growth management plans. These are not regional or state land use plans so much as they are systems of brakes and constraints on market driven development forces. Not since TVA, MVA, and the concept of the Fourth Migration, as advanced by a planners' think tank called the Regional Planning Association of America, has there been a significant effort at truly broad scale regional land use planning.
At a micro scale there certainly are patches of good places - color them sunny yellow. But there are many more patches of dark, dreary, gray. Are the good spots products of planned development? Not necessarily. Much depends on the platform from which one views the scene.
For those who see planned developments as exercises in futility, the poverty of contemporary planning is no where more vividly portrayed than in the press and air time we have given to that special patch championed by Duany and called neo-traditionalism. As snapshots, critics say, the Seasides are not bad, but they are not part of the whole organism. No neighborhood is an island.
For those who see the need to define the urban fabric in more humanistic terms, Seaside is not a meaningless romanticism, but is, rather, an important effort to give visibility and new meaning to a critical building block in that fabric - the ereIs neighborhood. Indeed, although in entirely different particulars, the same is being said about the central city. We need, advocates argue, to reestablish the meaning of place. It's a matter of structure: a neighborhood meeting one level of needs; a cluster of neighborhoods (community) meeting another.
What it all comes down to, it would seem, is a question of space decreed and space evolved. Planners have always had a fascination for the prospect of creating a grand scheme, the implementation of which would result in the good life. In the main, however, the critical mass professionals, laboring with land use planner labels, currently (and to a large part historically) view their roles as enablers of the free will of the market place.
And the beat goes on.
"Garreau V Duany" was originally published on Cyburbia on January 1, 1999.