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  • Garreau V Duany

    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.

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Howl's avatar
      Howl -
      I think the “contrived” conflict is just that. As the formal planning evolves we as planners continue to learn – about our environment, economics, social issues, politics – and we continually add to our professions knowledge base. The problem with planning is there can never be a perfect final state. The environment will continue to change, the economy will continue to change, our social structure will continue to change, technology will continue to change and our politics will continue to change. As a result we need to keep learning and adjusting our theories and practices to keep up. In some cases that might include taking experimental risks that may or may not be successful.

      In the 1950 expanding cities into under-utilized rural areas made sense from a 1950’s point-of-view. Looking at it from a 2010 point-of-view it doesn’t. In 2010 creating TOD nodes makes a lot of sense, but by 2050 it may not. By 2050 there may be a whole new paradigm that we need to deal with. We can look back at the past and learn from it, but we can’t go back and recreate it unless we also recreate the environmental, economic, social, technological and political situation that accompanied that period.

      I see places like Seaside as important experiment that teach us a lot about how we can be building communities in the future. In some case its showing us positive models and in other cases it’s showing us things to avoid. If we didn’t have Seaside available for us to study it would be a lot more difficult to understand many of those things.
    1. Tysons Engineer's avatar
      Tysons Engineer -
      I think Edge City is an important book and really appreciate the points you make in your post. I think one thing missing from Edge City is the economic criteria that is discussed in cultural and geographic shifts as discussed in Richard Florida's Great Reset. I think both bring up the point that urbanized nodes create efficient systems of commerce, energy/environment, and culture. One thing that is disturbing to me that is prevalent in both is the idea of engineered or created urbanism, especially in relation to culture and community presence. Its been something I have focused in my own writings on www.thetysonscorner.com

      It's very interesting as a resident to see the changes occurring both in my vicinity but also in the lifestyle of those who live in farther suburbs. Many people have hit an inflection point of decision which I believe is the beginning of a geographic shift which will be accelerated by rising fuel cost, lack of suburban jobs, and a general sense of isolation. I'd love you hear your thoughts on the latest occurrences specifically in Tysons Corner.