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Thread: New Urbanist Egotism

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    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    New Urbanist Egotism

    ‘Taking back’ what belongs to many

    PHILIP LANGDON
    A curious thing happened to the planning profession on its long road to recovery. The American Planning Association came closer than ever to endorsing New Urbanism’s principles, but displayed a surprising lack of respect for many of the people who put those principles into practice.

    In a speech March 20 in San Francisco, welcoming 6,000 planners and students to APA’s annual conference, President Mary Kay Peck declared that the US is on the verge of “a golden age of planning.” “People are building what we espouse,” Peck said. “There are traditional neighborhood developments being built in 43 of the 50 states.” Americans, she pointed out, increasingly want “places where they can walk” and are eager to stop being overly dependent on automobiles. “Transit is breaking records in cities all over the country,” Peck said, adding, “People are starting to use our language” — a language that emphasizes values such as “authenticity” and “sense of place.”

    From beginning to end, the four-and-a-half-day conference put new urbanist concepts and methods in the spotlight. There was an entire track of sessions called “New Urbanism Comes of Age,” plus tours of developments like Santana Row in San Jose and the waterfront district in Hercules, California. The fastest-growing subgroup in APA is the New Urbanism Division, 450 members strong after only about three years of operation. As if to signal where the profession is heading, APA devoted its final session to a panel discussion in which several of New Urbanism’s founders — including Judith Corbett, Peter Calthorpe, and Daniel Solomon — summed up New Urbanism’s accomplishments and pondered the challenges ahead.

    A DECADE AND A HALF OF LEARNING

    My sense is that during the past 15 years, many planners have absorbed the new urbanist emphasis on the need for physical design and making great places — settings where shops, services, housing, employment, and public spaces are nearer one another. A significant number of planners have started to see themselves once more as advocates for good principles of community design, drawing on New Urbanism, regionalism, and environmental conservation. This is a welcome change. The problem now is that the APA seems to have become jealous of competitors possibly intruding on its turf. “Others are trying to claim our message,” Peck said. Groups such as builders and real estate interests, she complained, are saying they are responsible for attributes such as “sense of place.” With those observations as background, Peck delivered APA’s truculent new slogan: “We are going to take it back.”

    I’m glad to see the profession expressing renewed interest in how to shape walkable, transit-connected, mixed-use communities. But APA is making a mistake in claiming most of the credit for what has so far been achieved. In point of fact, architects such as Calthorpe, Solomon, Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Elizabeth Moule, and Stefanos Polyzoides, more than planners, played the leading roles in getting New Urbanism started. As for educating the public, no one did more to popularize the phrase and concept “sense of place” than New York architect Robert A.M. Stern in his eight-part Public Broadcasting series “Pride of Place,” way back in 1986. A few developers, notably Robert Davis, Joseph Alfandre, and Henry Turley, appeared in the forefront, shouldering the financial risk of introducing the first traditional neighborhood development. Some planners also quickly joined the movement, but the profession as a whole went on permitting single-purpose tract housing developments, shopping centers with awful pedestrian access, and isolated business “parks.” Too much of the profession continues to do that.

    The best thing for the “Take it Back” campaign would be a quick burial. Planners and new urbanists need the cooperation of all sorts of people so that the remaining obstacles can be overcome — in real estate finance, fire department demands, retailing conventions, zoning codes, and other domains. The movement will lose ground if the discussion becomes fixated on questions of who is responsible for what’s been accomplished. Only by working together and downplaying questions of credit will we improve our communities. New Urban News April/May

    Thought this schizophrenic little piece was typical of the New Urbanist belief in urban development and the planning process. The author blasts the planning profession for claiming the successes of New Urbanism as its own and then suggests that the two camps need to work together. Given their disdain for government and most planners, does anyone think that New Urbanists want to cooperate? My feeling is that they want to make all the rules.

    My other problem with the New Urbanism is that it coopts traditional urban design principles and repackages them as their own. Weren't mixed-use, walkable communities an urban planning objective before Duany and company came around? I'm thinking of writing my Master's paper on urban design ideas and how they are communicated so any other sources dealing with these issues that anyone knows of would be appreciated. Thanks.

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    Quote Originally posted by hilldweller
    Thought this schizophrenic little piece was typical of the New Urbanist belief in urban development and the planning process. The author blasts the planning profession for claiming the successes of New Urbanism as its own and then suggests that the two camps need to work together. Given their disdain for government and most planners, does anyone think that New Urbanists want to cooperate? My feeling is that they want to make all the rules.

    My other problem with the New Urbanism is that it coopts traditional urban design principles and repackages them as their own. Weren't mixed-use, walkable communities an urban planning objective before Duany and company came around? I'm thinking of writing my Master's paper on urban design ideas and how they are communicated so any other sources dealing with these issues that anyone knows of would be appreciated. Thanks.
    I would also like to add the question, " Weren't mixed-use, walkable communities existing before Duany and Co. came around?"
    These ideas are not new. What these developers are creating aren't new. They are the same thing that most cities were founded on.

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    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Is the link for the article from the New Urban News?

    The reference to Stern, 1986, and "Pride of Place" is odd. Didn't Kevin Lynch publish "Image of the City" in 1960? What about Alexander et al with "Pattern Language" in 1977?

    Sounds like "creating great places" is becoming highly politicized by those in the development and governmental services industries. This is a good thing and I welcome it. Let the debates begin!

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    While I agree with much of their philosophy, though not all mainly in its actual outcomes, I find it laughable how whenever someone writes something even the least bit critical about New Urbanism, they trot someone out to write a retort. It is like they have their stable of people on guard, and the second something that does not gush over NU comes out, bang -- there they are ready to defend it !! Seems a bit too defensive to me.

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    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    One of my criticisms of the APA has been that the professional organization for planners has not been driving the agenda of planning. Instead, it has been the New Urbanist, the Smart Growth advocates, and other who have introduced the ideas currently embraced by planners. In that sense, Langdon is correct. We really do not have any claim to these movements, other than to say that we now embrace them (at least some of us, to some degree). We have nothing to take back. The better question may be what do we have to offer that is new?
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

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    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by timbucktwo
    It is like they have their stable of people on guard...
    Yes, they do have a stable for the exact purpose you state.

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    Quote Originally posted by Wanigas?
    Yes, they do have a stable for the exact purpose you state.
    Seems like they are control freaks of urban planning. A bit too extreme, a bit too defensive, really. I am no fan of sprawl, but listen more than one design philosophy makes the world go 'round. And I can be as much of an urbane snob as the next person!

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    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    To respond to Cardinal's point, while I have a number of gripes with the APA, I think overall it does a pretty good job of advocating for a diverse range of approaches to planning practice. Planning of course is a highly specialized field and the APA tries its best to cover all the bases (though some of the sub-specialties they offer members are a bit ridiculous ). But I think the APA recognizes that it must respect this diversity and not advance any one particular agenda if it is to serve as essentially a lobbying organization for the planning profession in general. So while the APA might advocate certain urban design ideas such as mixed use, denser, pedestrian-friendly development, it stands for them as best practices for planning in general. Langdon's claim that the APA shouldn't tout New Urbanism because planners weren't responsible for it seems to me a fundamental misunderstanding of the APA's purpose.

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    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by timbucktwo
    Seems like they are control freaks of urban planning.
    Not to split hairs, but I think they are into design moreso than urban planning.

    You are chic if you are a designer.

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    Cyburbian Big Red's avatar
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    Well, get ready, 'cause this New Urbanist stuff is already passe...

    Next thing, we'll all be fightin' over who's really "sustainable" and who really deserves credit for the sustainable "movement" and what the hell it even means...
    Oh, sorry, that's already happening.


    hilldweller is spot on in identifying the egotism that surrounds any popular method co-opted by the general establisment
    and the ensuing bickering that results from said egocentric views.

    So, I just sent in for a patent on "sustainable farming"...
    Maybe the most any of us can expect of ourselves isn't perfection but progress.

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    Quote Originally posted by Big Red


    Well, get ready, 'cause this New Urbanist stuff is already passe...

    Next thing, we'll all be fightin' over who's really "sustainable" and who really deserves credit for the sustainable "movement" and what the hell it even means...
    Oh, sorry, that's already happening.


    hilldweller is spot on in identifying the egotism that surrounds any popular method co-opted by the general establisment
    and the ensuing bickering that results from said egocentric views.

    So, I just sent in for a patent on "sustainable farming"...
    Ah. But just as critics of "New Urbanism" point out its elite design determinism and reliance on cutesy traditional architecture (a generalization-but still true), critics of sustainable farming-and organic farming-point out ITS dependence on cheap (often illegal) and intensive labor to replace chemicals. So, your PATENTED PROCESS is EVILLLLLLL!

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    Cyburbian Big Red's avatar
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    So, your PATENTED PROCESS is EVILLLLLLL!



    Everything that has transpired has done so according to my design!

    *evil cackle*

    Maybe the most any of us can expect of ourselves isn't perfection but progress.

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    I have previously posted this artcile on one of the many other New Urbanism threads, but having read this thread, thought it was more appropriate here;

    Peter Hall is one of my favourite writers, and I normally agree with most of what he says; the article sums up my own initial thoughts about NU. In essence, its a good idea, but its hardly reinventing the wheel.

    New urbanism has been tried before
    Sir Peter Hall, Regeneration & Renewal - 18 February 2005

    No doubt about it: New urbanism is the regeneration flavour of the year.

    The Sustainable Communities Summit seemed to be almost a new urbanist festival, with ex-Milwaukee mayor John Norquist as high priest. Easy to see why: New Labour, new urbanism. Besides, it's the new orthodoxy: the right way to build those 200,000 new homes in John Prescott's Sustainable Communities Plan - compactly, space-economising, public transport-connected. And, of course, communal.

    It goes back to that Urban Task Force diagram: light rail and feeder buses connecting at a transport hub amid mixed-use highish-density development, a grid of conventional urban streets, walkable but lively. In such a place, you simply couldn't help feeling good about your neighbours. Sweetness and light would shine around.

    I started thinking about this when an American student came to discuss her thesis. She's looked at the urban village idea and its manifestations in practice. Shouldn't you relate it to new urbanism, I asked. But what's the difference? new urbanism begins to look suspiciously like an Americanism for urban village.

    But, looking at her checklist of key points that she'd use to score schemes such as Glasgow's Crown Street or London Docklands' Britannia Village, an even more disturbing thought occurred. Wasn't it all oddly like the neighbourhood unit, invented by US sociologist Clarence Perry in 1923?

    And doesn't the urban village, aka new urbanism, uncannily resemble Forest Hills Gardens, the New York garden suburb where his idea got realised? Go and check the planning history books, I suggested.

    Well, you could argue there's a difference: the neighbourhood unit is too cut off, too enclosed. But that's the way it became, not the way it was intended. The point is that, as well as being safe for kids to walk to school, it was meant to generate an instant sense of community - an important point in New York, then full of recent immigrants. US cities are again full of immigrants. Coincidence?

    Back home, I sat back for the latest episode of Desperate Housewives.

    But hadn't I seen this setting somewhere before? Of course: it's Kentlands (Maryland) or Seaside (Florida), the epitome of new urbanism, with compact houses facing on to conventional sidewalks. But there's trouble in this paradise: Lynette is struggling with four unmanageable kids, desperate Gabrielle is climbing out of the window for an hour in the sack with her gardener, and Bree is deep into obsessive compulsions. Architectural determinism, it seems, didn't quite pull off the trick that was hoped for it. Nor did it ever: back to the planning history books.

    - Sir Peter Hall, professor of planning at the Bartlett School of Planning, University College London

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    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    New Urbanism

    My problem with new urbanisim isn't with the design, but with how elite it is and will continue to be. The design and location and mixed uses just make it all that much more NON-ATTAINABLE for anyone but the most wealthy to afford. While the new urbanist neighborhoods have many of the classic family oriented services/amenities, close to schools, close to open space or recreation facilities, trails & paths, limited/controlled traffic, connectivity......and so on, the market has taken these things and turned them into a "RETRO For the RICH" neighborhood (supply and demand).

    New Urbanist neighborhoods are currently relegated to a niche market, mostly because there are too few of these neighborhoods to create the critical mass of competition needed to make prices more reasonable for the masses. The market seeks to create this niche because it adds $$ for the developer and labels the development as what it is, special and unique. The real story should be that new urbanist architects and planners want to implement all of the new urbanist principles at the same time while developing a neighborhood (in general). We planners (APA) should recognize that in order for new urbanism to be something other than a niche market for the rich(er), we need to implement the key principles of new urbanism on a larger scale. Many of the new urbanist neighborhoods have been self contained (new cities and/or special districts) that largely remove significant political problems. The real trick will be getting key components of new urbanism injected into urban infill (starting to happen with market acceptance and developer interest and political will power). This means turning that political ignorance into political will power for change in thinking and change in actions.

    The Star(chitect) who gets a neighborhood done by creating a special district/new town(burg, village), or builds far enough away from existing urbanized areas is part of the first new generation of these developments. The reality is that these neighborhoods are only a niche in the market. Planners can help expand and build a regulatory relationship with ignorant politicians, developers and citizens (NIMBY's) in the areas that most need and could use new urbanist characteristics.

    Maybe someone should propose a TRUE congress of land use professions that would include all development types and get some real collaboration to take place.

    The One just thinking out loud....
    Skilled Adoxographer

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    Cyburbian
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    Isn't new urbanism just a product for sale? Its not really interested in good planning per se, just in the advancement of the design type.

    Now that's not to say that new-urban design lacks planning merit; the fundamental tenets are tried and true planning concepts.

    Builders, planners, designers are making money off of it, no different than builders, planners et al making money off of suburban design.

    The central planning notion of it all is nothing new at all, that, we should agree on. Mr. Hall is correct above.

    Its been repackaged of course, in fairness as a reponse to expansive suburban development. And since we had not seen the so-called "new-urban" design for so long, we embraced it.

    The new-urbanist movement should be congratulated in my opinion for being highly organized, on message, eager to spin etc...and advance the product. Good for them.

    It is too bad though that they come across as paternalistic, elistist, know-it-alls.

    None of this resolves what I believe is a true identity crisis in the Planning Profession.

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    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by gkmo62u
    None of this resolves what I believe is a true identity crisis in the Planning Profession.
    Well said.

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    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    I really do not understand...

    ....all this animosity. It does notm strike me that New Urnabists claim to have invented the weel. On the contrary, they usually support their claims by poointing to historical precedent. Indeed, I think the label 'new urbanism' is often repalced with 'ttraditional neighborhoods' or some such construct.

    If they are defensive it may be becuase they are still a minority, a fashionable oine, perhaps, but a minority. Msot Americans and msot planners are still very much in the Levittown "workers' paradise" mold or in the Koolhaas "concrete thunda" camp.

    As for their presumed 'elitism' I would point out that most cosmopolitan innovations tend to be introduced among the upper classes first and then trickle down to the rst of the population.

    I agree that many so-called NU developments look like normal subdivisions only less sprawly but that is a function of ahving to compromise with the existing market conditions. Some of the infill/browsite projects one sees on the web are pretty good, by contrast.

    Lastly, there is some overlap, but not even that much, between authentic classic architecture proponents and New/Traditional Urbanists.

    Personally, I would love to develop a NU-based infill or receovered site using early Bauhaus or Art Deco buildings. it would look amazing and be affordable.
    Life and death of great pattern languages

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    Quote Originally posted by Luca

    Personally, I would love to develop a NU-based infill or receovered site using early Bauhaus or Art Deco buildings. it would look amazing and be affordable.

    When I win the big lottery prize, I'll hire you and bring you over to California as my developer-partner.

    There are some great 1940s small apartment buildings scattered around my neighborhood.

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    My problem with these developments is not the product, design or idea behind it...its where they are located in reality. We have a 1000 acre NU development (deisnged by the "God of Planning" himself), the buildings look fine, typical and the street layouts and everything else are alright. Problem I have with it? Its in the middle of NOWHERE, in a 500 year flood plain. There is absolutely nothing around it, the developer bought up 1000 acres of farmland and put a new subdivision in.
    I can think of SO many large areas in this area that are blighted that any developer could go ointo, aquire large parcels of contiguous property and build the same thing but in the middle of the city, not in the middle of nowhere. Our "New Town" is a good designed suburb, nothing more. Sure it will be walkable, sure there will be some jobs there, but the only place to walk is within the development...it is not connected even remotely to the rest of the City...oh, forgive me, there is one bike path that connects it to the city in a round about way.

  20. #20

    Sounds like Celebration

    Quote Originally posted by Jaxspra
    My problem with these developments is not the product, design or idea behind it...its where they are located in reality. We have a 1000 acre NU development (deisnged by the "God of Planning" himself), the buildings look fine, typical and the street layouts and everything else are alright. Problem I have with it? Its in the middle of NOWHERE, in a 500 year flood plain. There is absolutely nothing around it, the developer bought up 1000 acres of farmland and put a new subdivision in.
    I can think of SO many large areas in this area that are blighted that any developer could go ointo, aquire large parcels of contiguous property and build the same thing but in the middle of the city, not in the middle of nowhere. Our "New Town" is a good designed suburb, nothing more. Sure it will be walkable, sure there will be some jobs there, but the only place to walk is within the development...it is not connected even remotely to the rest of the City...oh, forgive me, there is one bike path that connects it to the city in a round about way.
    I went to visit Celebration, albeit 4 years ago now. I was surprised how far it was from any real city. I had the same problem you did. You drive through (and you have to drive) miles of farmland and isolated subdivisions. You get off the highway and go through strip mall hell. Turn into the ceremonial (I guess you'd call them celebratory) gates and proceed for miles before you get to the perfect new urbanist development. It would have been amazing if Disney had used that money to create a sense of place in downtown or even inner ring Orlando.

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    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Luca
    ....all this animosity. It does notm strike me that New Urnabists claim to have invented the weel. On the contrary, they usually support their claims by poointing to historical precedent. Indeed, I think the label 'new urbanism' is often repalced with 'ttraditional neighborhoods' or some such construct.

    If they are defensive it may be becuase they are still a minority, a fashionable oine, perhaps, but a minority. Msot Americans and msot planners are still very much in the Levittown "workers' paradise" mold or in the Koolhaas "concrete thunda" camp.

    As for their presumed 'elitism' I would point out that most cosmopolitan innovations tend to be introduced among the upper classes first and then trickle down to the rst of the population.

    I agree that many so-called NU developments look like normal subdivisions only less sprawly but that is a function of ahving to compromise with the existing market conditions. Some of the infill/browsite projects one sees on the web are pretty good, by contrast.

    Lastly, there is some overlap, but not even that much, between authentic classic architecture proponents and New/Traditional Urbanists.

    Personally, I would love to develop a NU-based infill or receovered site using early Bauhaus or Art Deco buildings. it would look amazing and be affordable.
    Thanks, Luca; the nonsense so far spoken on this thread has made me avert my eyes in embarrassment for the speakers. I just couldn’t bring myself to set down what you’ve put so succinctly.

    To tell the truth, I think a lot of people feel guilty about being part of the support system for the status quo.

    As indeed they should.

    .

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