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Thread: Failure of New Urbanism

  1. #1

    Failure of New Urbanism

    The catch phrase these days for new development project is "New Urbanism" i.e. going back to our roots. Here is an example that was once widely praised called Birkdale Village located in Huntersville, NC (outside Charlotte) The unfortunate fact of the matter, it has not worked and has resulted in terrible traffic congestion, destruction of the surrounding neighborhoods, and done anything but create a nice urban enviroment. (This development is not too far from where I live and was constructed in less than 2 years. It used to be a dairy farm.)

    First the good. These are the photos that are usually shown when pushing for approval of new development projects. They create nice walkable area with the old time downtown feel. And it does kinda look like that.








    Now the bad. What normally isn't shown is how disconnected these places are from the rest of the world.

    Look at the other side. It a strip mall. Where is all the pedestrian activity?


    Like strip malls, there are cars and parking lots. Lots of them.



    Look at the traffic in area surrounding Birkdale Village. I wish I could have gotten better photos, but there really isn't anyway for a pedestrian to get down onto these streets.



    I was going to take a photo of the nearby movie theatre that just closed (less than 3 years old) because it could not compete with the movie theatre shown above. But the traffic is so bad that it would have taken me another 10 minutes to get to it so I said what the hell and went home. Other businesses in the area have closed as well.

    Personally I don't think this is any better than a strip mall and stamping it with the title of "New Urbanism" is just a smoke screen to hide what it really is. What do you think?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Plus PlannerGirl's avatar
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    As a fromer NC planner I have to ask if this is a DPZ/Nate Bowman project? No wait it cant be DPZ its not "traditional" enough. I hated their communties in NC and felt like they were too "celebration" like.

    Many of the pics seem to show gobs of cars and honestly not that many folks moving around.

    Shurgs
    "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." Ben Franklin

    Remember this motto to live by: "Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, martini in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming 'WOO- HOO what a ride!'"

  3. #3
    Cyburbian H's avatar
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    Nice revealing shots of the “new-suburbanism” that seems to be so hot right now. How is it that people really think this is “urban” development when it is promoting sprawl by building an economic monogamous strip center on a greenfield? I would just assume see a subdivision than this. At least the subdivision would be utilizing the developed greenfield, this is just such a waste because it is neither urban nor suburban.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Rumpy Tunanator's avatar
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    H summed it up perfectly. How can these so-called "new urbanism" developments work when it still revolves around the auto?
    A guy once told me, "Do not have any attachments, do not have anything in your life you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you spot the heat around the corner."


    Neil McCauley (Robert DeNiro): Heat 1995

  5. #5
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    Not new urbanism

    I think that for it to be new urbanism, it is missing a lot. First of all, it is still very obvious that it is still reliant on the use of the Automobile. It would be one thing if there was a light rail running though it, instead the parking lots still seem like a sea of concrete with a few tree islands to break up the view. However, I do think that it is better than a Mall, a Wal-Mart, or some other big box retailer. It provides somewhat of a pedestrian feel.

    Does it have mixed use allowing for both commercial and residential?
    Not my monkey, not my circus. - Old Polish Proverb

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    Well, its no ideal community but if you spread all those uses out over a suburban arterial you would take up a lot more space and have even more driving and parking. At least you have some uses on upper stories and a more compact site plan. It's at least encouraging that someone, somewhere knows how to design and build traditional looking buildings. Its superficial but at least it shows that we as a country are starting to have an appreciation for the real thing - if only real urban areas could have so much investment.

    Personally, I think New Urbanism does best when it sticks its principals to urban areas. Duany's plans have certainly helped in Downtown Providence. Many cities need to be reminded what being urban means.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    I find it difficult to form an opinion of that town based on the limited images that were posted. However, regardless of its form - which seem to be the primary focus of the images - if there is a significant mix of residential space among the commercial areas, I would then say it is a far superior development than its single-use suburban kin.

  8. #8

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    I have never been too much of a true beleiver in "New Urbanism" or the by now repetitive Upscale Generica that they spawn (Banana Republic AGAIN? -of course, I am wearing one of their shirts right now, but... )

    However, Wanigas is of course right. It is easy to be critical from a few photographs.

    And, I also agree with Seabishop. Standard suburban development lacks even the visual quality and CHANCE for pedestrians that "New Urbanism" at least tries (not always successfully) to provide. I could show you the horrible traffic jams associated with our very conventional commercial district centered around a regional mall.

    Its hard to be too critical of a project like this because it generates traffic. Unless you believe that the surrounding conventional suburbia must remain frozen in, I'm guessing, 1967, that suburban area would be changing anyway. A power center and a new regional fashion mall would have similar impacts.

    But, it is good to point out how far from ideal "New Suburbanism" is in the field.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian jresta's avatar
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    I lived a short drive from Charlotte for 5 years, and i still have a few friends there, and one thing i can say for certain is that it really doesn't matter what you build in Charlotte - there's going to be traffic. Everytime i go back it just gets worse. It's a typical, rapidly expanding sunbelt city. Think Atlanta 10 years ago.

    I had some freinds who lived in a similar development near Davidson, which is a Charlotte suburb about 20 miles north of 'uptown' (although now i hear they call it center city). Anyway, the "downtown" of this development, while easily walkable for the people who lived there was the only game in town so it attracted a huge amount of traffic, esp. on the weekends.

    So i don't think it's fair to say, off the cuff, that these places are just as auto-dependent as standard subdivisions. But developers, and their investors are taking a risk on something that's "unproven" as far as banks are concerned. A lot of the financing (and often the municipal permits) is resting on the retail component of the development. That's where the profit is and as far as the town is concerned that's where the tax revenue is. The developer has to demonstrate that they'll have the parking to attract the 'out of town' trips to make the retail component viable.

    Having said that, i think the real problem is patience. The reason "new urbanism" will always look like a cheap copy of the real thing is because it's built all at once by the same mega-builder. I think if lots were sold individually and it was built over time and not all at once on speculation it would look a lot more authentic.

    Give these places time too. The oldest developments aren't even 10 years old yet. People offered the same critiques of Levittown when they first went up and now people marvel at how the houses have all taken on their own character.
    Indeed you can usually tell when the concepts of democracy and citizenship are weakening. There is an increase in the role of charity and in the worship of volunteerism. These represent the élite citizen's imitation of noblesse oblige; that is, of pretending to be aristocrats or oligarchs, as opposed to being citizens.

  10. #10

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    Considering the context these folks live in, they have to have cars. And given the habits they have they are going to use them. It might take many years for people to actually start walking to shop on a regular basis. Also, given the land use context, any new development that isn't leapfrogging into a rural countryside is going to have some neighbors, most of which will not be TND, New Urbanist, or whatever. I tend to agree with Seabishop and others: its probably incremental progress in a good direction, and it may take several years to really understand whether it works.

  11. #11
    It is difficult to judge this development based on a few photos so I will point out a few things that are not as obvious. Yes it does include apartments above the retail as shown and not shown is that it is surrounded by a development of single family homes on 1/5 acre lots. Most are in walking distance.

    However, the village lacks what I call the necessities of life. No, grocery stores, schools, medical care, or places to work unless it is in one of the minimum wage retail establishments. They way it was situated in the town the is no hope of adding any of this to the development. There are no plans for mass transit. The nearest bus stop is several miles away, and the planned commuter rail line into Huntersville is not even close. Thus, everyone who lives there is forced to get into their car and go elsewhere each day.

    Fortunately Huntersville has made changes to prevent this type of developmen from occuring in the future. When I get a chance, I will take some photos of another development that is taking longer to develop, but it is much better integrated in the town than Birkdale, and may in the long run result in a much more sustainable less car dependant area.

  12. #12

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    Suburban habits

    Lee: A perfect (personal) example:

    My brother lives in San Francisco's Marina District. For years, he tried to live a typical suburban lifestyle-he would drive to malls in Marin County for shopping. Its a pain in the neck to drive in San Francisco-or anywhere in the inner Bay Area, and his "habits" have been slowly changing.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Howard Roark's avatar
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    I think you may be confusing "lifestyle center" w/ new urbanism here. From the looks of the stores (I would really need plans to make a determination), this is mixed use in a very superficial way w/ destination retailers instead of everyday needs. There appears to be no retation to the surrounding street morphology, and large parking lots fronting retail to the "back" of main street (a la strip mall) Both of these things are big no-no's in CNU dogma (oops! I mean philosophy!) It does have a precious look that DPZ strives for, but Andres himself admits that the strength of NU relies on plan, not image. But image is what developers seeking selling points go for. In other words it is easier to "look" NU rather than be NU, this is also reinforced by developers inherent doubts, not of mixed use, but of intergrated walkable communities.
    She has been a bad girl, she is like a chemical, though you try and stop it she is like a narcotic.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian jresta's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    Lee: A perfect (personal) example:

    My brother lives in San Francisco's Marina District. For years, he tried to live a typical suburban lifestyle-he would drive to malls in Marin County for shopping. Its a pain in the neck to drive in San Francisco-or anywhere in the inner Bay Area, and his "habits" have been slowly changing.
    I have friends of friends, neighbors, acquaintances, etc. that have moved in from the suburbs and have two modes - walk or drive. They don't do bikes, busses, or subways. I think they're intimidated by the latter two. If it's just an errand and it's more than 4 blocks they'll drive it - taking someone with them so they can double park.

    All the new townhouses (affordable only to the lexus set) in and around center city have a garage so they literally drive and drive out going from their garage to a parking deck and back. I guess the only point of living in the city in that case is to cut down on your commute. haha - actually when i worked in Charleston my boss had a beatiful house 5 blocks from the office. He drove his jag to work everyday.

    The South Philly natives are the worst. Rather than walk 3 blocks to the neighborhood Super Fresh they'll drive two miles to the Super Fresh next to the Home Depot on Delaware Ave. They'll sooner take their kids over the bridge to a park, or the mall, or the movies in south jersey than they would walk around the block.

    I think for those born&raised it's more status than it is laziness and i think it is changing for the better . . . we'll see.
    Indeed you can usually tell when the concepts of democracy and citizenship are weakening. There is an increase in the role of charity and in the worship of volunteerism. These represent the élite citizen's imitation of noblesse oblige; that is, of pretending to be aristocrats or oligarchs, as opposed to being citizens.

  15. #15

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    BKM: driving almost anywhere in the Bay Area is just plain scary. I take BART or I don't go. And thanks for the example. People don't change rapidly, but they DO change. Perhaps we need to pay more attention to how we change certain habits than to physical design?

  16. #16

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    jresta: I have to admit that I drive to the supermarket, usually. Although, there is a decent, bland Albertsons' within a twenty minute walk. I just like Nugget market (a local Valley "gourmet" grocery chain) so much more.

    Although, for a carton of milk, I'll walk to Albertsons.

    My rather rambling point: I too am a lazy suburbanite

  17. #17
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    Its all about scale. For a new urbanist development to suceed outside of urban areas it needs to have two things: Critical mass and transportation alternatives.

    If you are building a development in the boonies what you're doing is essentially creating a new town, no matter how small it is, it is an instant community because of its isolation. I.E. Seaside.

    Most developments are in suburbia which means that it becomes a destination, like a simple mall instead of a community. For the development to become a community you have to build it huge to be able to anchor it in the sea of suburbia. And I can not stress this enough, it must be truly mixed use. How many developments look like this: "6 million square feet office space, 4 stores(catering to office workers) and 142 housing units" 142 units is pure show--basically this means 7000 office workers and 300 residents.

    Or vice versa, a community with 3000 residents, an ice cream shop and a real estate agency. These are fine, but these are destinations for people going home or people going to work, for these to even be marginally new urbanist (i.e. to achieve higher densities they absolutely need rail or improved bus transit. The other way to make it work is to require/socially engineer people to live and work in the same place, to encourage business owners to live above their shops like in the old days. You can also achieve limited sucess if you get office workers to stay late to shop and eat out or alternatively to get residents to attend schools

    New urbanist applications work great in cities because they help mend the fabric of the city, a couple of sidewalk cafes and townhomes can do wonders. I.E. Bethesda Row.(North of DC)

    Basically new urbanism really comes up short in suburbia, because suburbia isn't between a town and a city it is the repudation of both. You cant weave new urbanism into cyburbia, you have to isolate each development from the immediate sprawl and link them to each other and other major urban centers through transit, and if you are lucky each center will grow slowly by densifying the sprawl immediately around it. Otherwise each development will merely become dense suburbia with terrible traffic problems.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian jresta's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by rrk
    Its all about scale. For a new urbanist development to suceed outside of urban areas it needs to have two things: Critical mass and transportation alternatives.
    lots of good points. it's important to remember, though, since we can all get caught up with JTW . . . that just under 25% of all VMT are people driving to work. Take out all of the trucking, UPS driving, the plumber on call, etc. and home-work or work-home still doesn't reach 40%.

    It's not really the jobs that are creating the traffic. Since suburbia has become the de facto human spawning ground a huge chunk of trips involve driving kids to school, taking them to ball games, to friends' houses . . . and since there's often not much to do but shop and watch TV people who aren't working spend an awful lot of time during the day "running errands" . . . except they're not really running - they're driving.

    So if you can create a place, even in the middle of nowhere, that allows people at least the opportunity to walk to school, recreation, a few restaurants, a convenience store, a pharmacy, and a few other such shops, and maybe even professional services like a few doctors and lawyers you are going to cut down tremendously on their VMT - even if there are no "jobs" within the development.
    However, if you provide ample parking within the development no one is going to walk, no matter how close.
    Indeed you can usually tell when the concepts of democracy and citizenship are weakening. There is an increase in the role of charity and in the worship of volunteerism. These represent the élite citizen's imitation of noblesse oblige; that is, of pretending to be aristocrats or oligarchs, as opposed to being citizens.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jresta
    ....So if you can create a place, even in the middle of nowhere, that allows people at least the opportunity to walk to school, recreation, a few restaurants, a convenience store, a pharmacy, and a few other such shops, and maybe even professional services like a few doctors and lawyers you are going to cut down tremendously on their VMT - even if there are no "jobs" within the development.
    However, if you provide ample parking within the development no one is going to walk, no matter how close.
    It's a matter convenience. We are convenience driven. If driving isn't a big hassle, we'll do it. If walking around is easier than driving, we do that. If taking a train is quicker and easier than driving, we do that.

    Is it easier to drive-thru and get your food or park, get out, get in, get the food, etc?

    If there was no parking or drive-thru what is more convenient, walking to the restaurant or driving there?

    We're only married to our cars because we've done so much to let us use them conveniently.

    As has been pointed out many many times, we made owning an auto convenient in almost all the new development since 1950...or maybe even the 40s.

    For example, my communities downtown has become a drive to and park downtown. There is so much parking that you can't give good reasons to people to walk. They're biggest grip is "Pay Parking" *GASP*. Recognizing this parking glut, we no longer have min parking req's in our CBD. It has spawned a number of loft-to-condo and office-to-condo/apt conversions.
    Last edited by boiker; 06 Feb 2004 at 1:23 PM. Reason: fix font size.
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

  20. #20

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    "The Car"

    I'm afraid we're all caught in a trap. We can't even blame it on rapid growth. I live outside of Pittsburgh, whose population has been rather stagnant, and the traffic has tripled in the past 10 years. We are at the mercy of corporate America and there is no easy way out. Walmart, the Big Banana, Target, Home Depot, Kmart, Bed Bath and Beyond, Best Buy, Circuit City.......

    Are these bargain centers and saving some money so important that we have to sacrifice so much to the car?

    Slapping some retrofit plastic pseudo 19th century facade on a strip mall is not the new urbanism.

  21. #21
          freewaytincan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by UrbaniDesDev
    Slapping some retrofit plastic pseudo 19th century facade on a strip mall is not the new urbanism.
    Well! Someone has been reading some Kuntsler...

    Hee hee, there's a place called "Dick's" and it's also big. BIG DICK'S! Which, I might add, summarizes what developers seem to have handed this area. Talk about two faced, in more ways than one.

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally posted by rrk
    Its all about scale. For a new urbanist development to suceed outside of urban areas it needs to have two things: Critical mass and transportation alternatives.

    If you are building a development in the boonies what you're doing is essentially creating a new town, no matter how small it is, it is an instant community because of its isolation. I.E. Seaside.

    Most developments are in suburbia which means that it becomes a destination, like a simple mall instead of a community. For the development to become a community you have to build it huge to be able to anchor it in the sea of suburbia. And I can not stress this enough, it must be truly mixed use. How many developments look like this: "6 million square feet office space, 4 stores(catering to office workers) and 142 housing units" 142 units is pure show--basically this means 7000 office workers and 300 residents.

    Or vice versa, a community with 3000 residents, an ice cream shop and a real estate agency. These are fine, but these are destinations for people going home or people going to work, for these to even be marginally new urbanist (i.e. to achieve higher densities they absolutely need rail or improved bus transit. The other way to make it work is to require/socially engineer people to live and work in the same place, to encourage business owners to live above their shops like in the old days. You can also achieve limited sucess if you get office workers to stay late to shop and eat out or alternatively to get residents to attend schools

    New urbanist applications work great in cities because they help mend the fabric of the city, a couple of sidewalk cafes and townhomes can do wonders. I.E. Bethesda Row.(North of DC)

    Basically new urbanism really comes up short in suburbia, because suburbia isn't between a town and a city it is the repudation of both. You cant weave new urbanism into cyburbia, you have to isolate each development from the immediate sprawl and link them to each other and other major urban centers through transit, and if you are lucky each center will grow slowly by densifying the sprawl immediately around it. Otherwise each development will merely become dense suburbia with terrible traffic problems.
    I am new to Cyburbia, invited by a current member because (yes, I'm hawking) my new book (hawk again) is coming out in April called "Get Urban!" Being an inner city planner in Ohio and watching the downtown crumble while new urbanist developments are popping up in the cornfields (along with conventional products) made me realize something-- people in America do not understand the benefits of what real city living can provide. I spent a few hours in another area defending the yet-released book, and most people said that it seemed to look like a cheerleading session about urban living. It is. But I am on a mission for better or worse--we forgot what real, not new, not neo, but real city living is all about. My mission is about teaching this lesson, and creating demand for Topeka and Peoria and your city too.

    www.geturban.com

    ()

  23. #23
    Member Visionary Diva's avatar
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    Does "New Urbanism" work?

    The concepts behind new urbanism are basically justified but the buillt environment that often entitled new urbanism just utilize the phrase as a buzzword. The need for housing choices, mixed uses and environmental protection are what new urbanism seem to begin with. Now the projects are suburban sprawl that look prettier than traditional subdivisions.
    New Urbanists need to focus on the principles and less on the pretty.

  24. #24
    Suspended Bad Email Address teshadoh's avatar
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    After first hearing about new urbanism a decade ago I was excited when first hearing about developer's in Atlanta announcing plans a few years ago. What these 'new urbanist' developments are just facades of real communities. But when comparing these developments to the typical suburban development - maybe these aren't as bad as they are made out to. They are at least a slight improvement - providing some options for walkability (even though there is no place to walk to).

    One development that comes to mind is Ridenour near Kennesaw, GA. It offers attractive homes built up close to the sidewalk lined street, nearby there are townhomes & apartment buildings. What is billed as being new urbanist though is that it is walking distance to the shopping centers around a nearby mall. But once anyone walks out of the safe confines of the development, they are met with an automobile wasteland of no sidewalks & angry drivers.

    The thing that annoys me most though, is the 'mixed use' developments being championed in the suburbs. In reality, they are not at all different from typical development. 20 acres of a shopping center, backed with 10 acres of an office development, beside 30 acres of a apartment complex. Voila! A mixed use development, totally different from the other 20 acre shopping center beside the 30 acre apartment complex & the 10 acre office park.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    "New Urbanism" is parasitic to sprawl the same way sprawl is parasitic to cities. It's really just a rehash of the old railroad suburbs. Those old suburbs surrounded themselves with farmland and protected themselves from real urbanism and diversity with a commuter train fare. The new ones surround themselves with miles and miles of sprawl and use the same auto-reliance that the sprawl uses to keep the undesiarables out.

    So really, all it is is an aesthetic enhancement over conventional sprawl, and usually a tenuous one at that.

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