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Thread: Insults to New Urbanism

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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Insults to New Urbanism

    No doubt you've run across opposition to NU development, or just the concept of new urbanism. What are the worst soundbites you've heard in opposition to New Urbanism?

    Among armchair urbanists and those diagnosed with sentimental geography syndrome in the Rust Belt: fake, not authentic, not genuine, not real, too manicured, "out of the Stepford Wives", etc.

    Heard in Buffalo: "We already have enough old urbanism. They should fix that up first."

    Heard in far east suburban Cleveland: "My parents/grandparents left the city to get away from that kind of neighborhood" and "It would attract more of the kind of people we don't want living here. It's what they're comfortable with."

    Among some of the crunchy crowd: "There's too much impervious surface coverage. It's not going to be good for stormwater management, groundwater protection or watershed protection."

    Also, developers labeling any of their projects with a lot of Arts-and-Crafts/Craftsman/interwar vernacular revival architecture or houses with detached garages as NU.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

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    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    No doubt you've run across opposition to NU development, or just the concept of new urbanism. What are the worst soundbites you've heard in opposition to New Urbanism?
    o Subsidized
    o Elites live there
    o Too expensive
    o (calling Mr Cox! Mr Wendell Cox to defend the American Dream!) Still has leapfrog-greenfield development anyway.
    o Forcing more choices to dense development.
    o Planners taking away precious freedom
    o Preference for real Americans is big house, big yard.
    o Who wants to talk to their neighbors anyway??

  3. #3
    Cyburbian TexanOkie's avatar
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    It's the "Cult of Duany" or "Etch-a-Sketch Planning".

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    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    I once had a conversation with a nursing student a while ago talking about what I did for a living. She called them "Fisher Price Towns."

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    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Wanigas? View post
    I once had a conversation with a nursing student a while ago talking about what I did for a living. She called them "Fisher Price Towns."
    I assure you that is an apt description for the Prospect area in Longmont, Colo.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian UrbaneSprawler's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ColoGI View post
    I assure you that is an apt description for the Prospect area in Longmont, Colo.
    If that's the case, I didn't know Fisher Price made such good BBQ ribs (the Rib House inside the development).

    So, was the comment meant to imply negatively on Prospect? I thought Prospect is considered the pinnacle of New Urbanism?

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    Our local Tea Party has been calling our Visioning Plan (BCC 2035) a plot by the UN to implement Agenda 21. Our staff has been called communist and federal government interlopers in public meetings. The main objections seems to be the parts about Smart Growth (ie. walkable neighborhoods, mixed use buildings and mass transit). The plan is not out right New Urbanism but does mention form based zoning. Apparently the word "sustainable" has become a code word for Agenda 21. I have never read Agenda 21 and had not heard of it before the local Tea Party brought it up.

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    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Paul C View post
    Our local Tea Party has been calling our Visioning Plan (BCC 2035) a plot by the UN to implement Agenda 21. Our staff has been called communist and federal government interlopers in public meetings. The main objections seems to be the parts about Smart Growth (ie. walkable neighborhoods, mixed use buildings and mass transit). The plan is not out right New Urbanism but does mention form based zoning. Apparently the word "sustainable" has become a code word for Agenda 21. I have never read Agenda 21 and had not heard of it before the local Tea Party brought it up.
    Outstanding! If that's the only objection to a development - credulously parroting fringe agitprop - you're golden. Serious people interested in real civic discourse don't use such framing.

    Quote Originally posted by UrbaneSprawler View post
    So, was the comment meant to imply negatively on Prospect? I thought Prospect is considered the pinnacle of New Urbanism?
    The comment was meant to explicitly state that IMHO the description was apt.

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    I think the communist remarks are particularly ironic because the Tea Party is left defending some of the ideas of Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer. The later was truly a communist and the former was loved by communist if he was not one in real life.

    A local report called the UN and reported on their reaction to the claims .

    http://www.clevelandbanner.com/view/...=homethirdleft

  10. #10
    Cyburbian fringe's avatar
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    Thanks for sharing, Paul.

    The Tea Party has yet to show me anything but the face of xenophobia, be it of strange people or of strange ideas beyond mom and apple pie.

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    Cyburbian
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    A tempest in a teapot perhaps, but modernist architects and so-called landscape urbanists are ganging up on NU. The quote in the article - "The New Urbanists … are they still around? They make porches for white Southerners, don’t they?” seems classic of this thinking. I like this article in Metropolis that really makes the case for what CNU really is about, such as the CNU-ITE standards, HOPE VI, urban infill:

    http://www.metropolismag.com/story/2...g-beyond-style

    Attending the CNU conference a couple years ago really opened my eyes to the bredth and depth of New Urbanist activities.

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    Cyburbian
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    I think the mistake/miscalculation the early New Urbanists made was a associating themselves too closely with the neo-traditional architectural movement. Architecture is easy for people to see and therefore easy for them to comprehend. Community design is harder to see (unless you are in an airplane) and therefore harder to comprehend. As a result when most people think of “New Urbanism” they are really thinking of neo-traditional architecture.

    The basic principles behind new urbanism, namely creating walkable, transit friendly, socially and environmentally sustainable communities should transcend any particular architectural style. In fact, many such communities or developments ARE being built, but they aren’t classified as “New Urbanist” because they aren’t built in the neo-traditional style.

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    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    Heard in Buffalo: "We already have enough old urbanism. They should fix that up first."...

    Also, developers labeling any of their projects with a lot of Arts-and-Crafts/Craftsman/interwar vernacular revival architecture or houses with detached garages as NU.
    I do agree that NU sometimes overshadows the true planning need for working on "old urbanism", but there is plenty of room to do both.

    I think the worst abuse of the concept is the big box mall rebranded as a New Urbanist Urban Village because it has fake gables and nice sidewalks.

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    Cyburbian
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    The New Urbanism is simply traditional city planning undertaken in the age of car and freeway dominance and adapted to that new reality.

    When train stations, trolley lines, and horse-powered transportation was the norm, so were walkable environments and modulated rural-to-urban Transects. The domination of cars and freeways now require that these elements be coded.

    Modernist architecture is only problematic in its usual elimination of human-scaled visual detail that is important to creating walkability.

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    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Pragmatic Idealist View post
    When train stations, trolley lines, and horse-powered transportation was the norm, so were walkable environments and modulated rural-to-urban Transects. The domination of cars and freeways now require that these elements be coded.

    Modernist architecture is only problematic in its usual elimination of human-scaled visual detail that is important to creating walkability.
    Back in the old days they did not even know what transects were. Heck I am not even sure I know what one is today. I am old school and look at development as a Von Tunen model.

    Development was walkable back then because the land developers also owned the train stations and trolley lines. It was only when they started to fill in the spokes in the development wheel did we take on a more auto dependant infastructure.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

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    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Pragmatic Idealist View post
    so were walkable environments and modulated rural-to-urban Transects.
    This erroneously presumes more formal planning than actually happened on the ground in reality.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian
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    One of the ongoing challenges of new (and old) urbanism, and I think its been addressed in another thread, is the market value of new urban developments (and any walkable development in a metro area that has a robust economy) that often leads to the label "elitist" and the assumption that this is a "niche product" rather than an approach to solving larger urban issues. I think Prospect is a case in point - with $500,000 - $700,000 homes on the edge of Longmont, prices reflect more the upscale Boulder market down the road than the more middle-class Longmont market. I think its been mentioned elsewhere that this is largely a question of supply-and-demand - with limitted supply of walkable neighborhoods, combined with demand among above-average income earners. At the same time, I often hear it said that New Urbanism can only be a niche product because "middle class people don't want to live like that," a contention which I think is debatable.

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    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Related to what docwatson said - alot of "old urbanism" is in locations with less than stellar school districts (especially in central cities), but if you can find the land to do a NU project in an established and desirable "old urbanism" setting (ie continuing the established pattern) that has good schools then I know of many locations/places where middle income households definiately want to live there.

    Think of all the streetcar or railroad commuter places around that country that are very sought after, and many, if not most, people buy houses with detached garages on 5,000SF lots (the horror...).

    If Chicago Public Schools could be as good as even the moderately good suburban school districts, middle income households would be flooding back in.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  19. #19
    In Boston, we are helped by the fact that city property taxes are a fraction of suburban taxes. So if you only have one kid or you can get your kids into one of the exam high schools, city living is much less expensive. At least for some people.

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    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by ColoGI View post
    This erroneously presumes more formal planning than actually happened on the ground in reality.
    Actually, my point is that walkable environments with a variety of "transect zones" arose organically in most cases because cities depended on foot traffic, bicycles, trains, trolleys, and beasts-of-burden. So, the environment was built accordingly. The range and speed of cars, facilitated by freeways, created, along with Euclidean zoning and minimum parking requirements, many of the problems that now plague the U.S.

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    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Pragmatic Idealist View post
    Actually, my point is that walkable environments with a variety of "transect zones" ...
    Sorry, my brain just shuts off at the prospect of trying to grok the tiny transect fad/box/jargon/fad/fad/box.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian
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    The concept of the Transect has ancient precedents. It's been around for a long time.

    The Transect is more important now than ever before because it explains that, which we've lost through the development pattern of suburban sprawl. I don't really understand the antipathy towards the idea. The need to modulate environments so that a variety exists within a walkable place and the value of being sensitive to contexts should be self-evident.

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    Cyburbian
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    Be careful not to confuse the semantics of walkable communities with the building of real walkable communities. The concept of transects is just a way to reference and organize the real world - it is not in itself the real world. New Urbanists didn’t come up with the idea of walkable communities. They came up with a way to talk about walkable communities more clearly.

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    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Gotta Speakup View post
    In Boston, we are helped by the fact that city property taxes are a fraction of suburban taxes. So if you only have one kid or you can get your kids into one of the exam high schools, city living is much less expensive. At least for some people.
    Yeah, but if you have to send your kids to private schools because the local public schools are terrible, any tax advantage disappears, even for 1 child because the tuition at privates are in the thousands.

    This is the same situation in Buffalo and many other cities. The existence of an alternative private educational system has made public schools worse rather than better because fewer people, especially wealthy and influential people, are invested in the public schools. In the suburbs where a large majority if not almost all students attend the public schools, everyone is invested in the public schools if for no other reason that good schools help maintain property values. In smaller cities in NYS which don't have many students attending private schools and which operate much like suburban schools in that their boards of education set their own budgets and levy taxes, the schools' reputations tend to be much better than the big city schools even though these small cities have high percentages of poor children.

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    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Pragmatic Idealist View post
    The concept of the Transect has ancient precedents. It's been around for a long time.

    ... The need to modulate environments so that a variety exists within a walkable place and the value of being sensitive to contexts should be self-evident.
    Quote Originally posted by Howl View post
    Be careful not to confuse the semantics of walkable communities with the building of real walkable communities. The concept of transects is just a way to reference and organize the real world - it is not in itself the real world. .
    Some folks say 'when you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail', but I like to think of it as worshiping the tool rather than focusing on the work that needs to be done. I see this with classical economics all the time.

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