Maybe this seems a broad question, but it was inspired by a little trip I did today that made me question the reality of new Urbanism. I was driving around the suburbs of San Francisco (specifically, Pleasant Hill), where there has been a strong push to create a "new downtown." I found it, quite frankly, depressing. The City was forced to integrate typical big box users (A Bed, Bath, and Beyond, a Multiplex) with a new Main Street. While better than a strip mall, it's still the same national chains, the same formulas, all tarted up with multicolored patterns to disguise the boxy, cheaply built architecture. Don't get me wrong, there were a few nice public spaces intermixed, but it all just seemed so superficial and cheap. A few fake-craftsman houses were thrown in and, although better than the typical "four garage door monstrosities, I noticed many of these $450,000 beauties backed up to a blank (but prettiily multicolored) big box wall.
Yes, you may say, but this is suburbia-what do you expect? Except even in the supposedly sophisticated inner Bay Area towns (like Berkeley), you see the same thing. Berekely is full of well-meaning mixed use buildings along major corridors. Every one of them, I am sad to report, is poorly built, thinly detailed, architecturally badly proportioned, and, in many cases, half empty in what was purported to be a booming economy (changing now-but that's a different story).
I know that neo-traditionalism uses rule books and similar rigid guidelines, but, I don't know that such guidelines can do anything but create cartoon buildings that people will develop no real affection for. Maybe it is just the uniquely high cost Bay Area that results in such depressing development. But, I don;t see the new mixed use stuff or neotradional design really creating an attractive and durable cityscape.