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The Real New Urbanism

swm

Member
Messages
8
Points
0
...has little to do with CNU or their philosophy, which we all know - at best - is a re-hashing of our fundamentalist understandings of what makes "good" urbanism. At worst, it's merely a marketing scheme for developers to sell units or charge higher rents (like the recent gimmick of golf course communities).

What I'm talking about, however, is the fact that what is "new" urban form is not our vaunted paradigm of human-scaled, pedestrian communities. What IS new, after all, is sprawling development. Los Angeles, not Greenwich Village.

I'm not sure what it is exactly, which is why I'm posting. I know sprawl (i grew up in it) and I know Greenwich Village (I live in it); I learned about all this in 6 yrs of planning education, and working in policy for a bit, and master planning new communities. And what I learned, and all I hear about here, is the party line that 1) sprawl is bad and 2) old urban forms are good.

But what I wonder is, is that true? Of course, in the past, that's been true. There are costs to sprawl, to be sure. I mean, everybody knows them, to the extent that politicians RUN on anti-sprawl and "smart" growth (never thought I'd see the day).

Why can't LA and Vegas, and so many HUGE cities in developing countries, why can't these places be studied objectively and why don't we really ask "why do millions of people PREFER this," what is it that drives (no pun intended) this development to be THE choice for people? Are we planners arrogant enough to think that millions of happy people are just dumb, and that we know what's best for them?

Why are we always talking about the "New Urbanism" here? We all know what it really is, I think. Let's talk about what is really happening, what really ARE new urban forms out there, that may be counter to what we feel is intuitively right, but I think it's about time we accepted that this is what's happening, this is what people like, and how do we make it work instead of just not thinking about it...

I mean, I used to hate LA because it was counter to a lot of what I learned was good urban form, good regional governance, etc. We made fun of LA in planning school. We joked about it at APA. Now that I've been there a few times, I do like it, for what it is. In fact, tens of millions of people love LA, besides Randy Newman. So what I'm saying is, we should study LA, not vilify it.

Thanks for listening. It's 4:20 in the morning and I tend to ramble.

-steve
 

oulevin

Cyburbian
Messages
178
Points
7
The Real

The need for escape is quite powerful. If most of a city's workers are downtown, they'll want to get away. From the noise. From the hustle and bustle. From the rif raf. They get stressed at work; they don't want stress going back home. For many, the promise of peace, quiet, and a your own private haven is what most Americans need, and think is good for them. Even the commute back home can be therapeutic; for many, it's the only peace they get during the day.

What I've learned over the years is that with most people, the grass is always greener on the other side. City dwellers pine for their vacation at some far and away remote location. Many rural-based folk search for the city to realize their dreams. Those in the burbs want to go where the action is: downtown. Having lived in suburbia most of my life, I'm relishing my new apartment downtown.

The point is, the people who are driving NU are probably the ones who've had enough of the car-oriented, isolationist life of the suburbs. What we have to realize is that if every community converted to New Urbanism, you would probably lose that sense of place. (a goal of NU, if I'm not mistaken.) The highways are a big part of what makes LA LA.
 

Wannaplan?

Galactic Superstar
Messages
3,111
Points
26
swm said:
Why can't LA and Vegas, and so many HUGE cities in developing countries, why can't these places be studied objectively and why don't we really ask "why do millions of people PREFER this," what is it that drives (no pun intended) this development to be THE choice for people? Are we planners arrogant enough to think that millions of happy people are just dumb, and that we know what's best for them?
Another good point. I had an urban design professor who said that planners and designers should take pause and look at the city and think about it on its own terms. Sometimes interventions that work in certain places are irrelevant in other places. For instance, understanding Detroit for what Detroit is a legitimate approach. What can we discern from Detroit, its past, and its aspirations to make it a better place? Looking to Los Angeles, Savannah, or elsewhere for solutions may not be the best approach.

But your point about New Urbanism, I think, fails to see what New Urbanism is all about. It is my understanding that New Urbanism is an approach that addresses many issues, including voracious land consumption, pollution, and social disintegration, among others. In many ways, it is an approach to minimize the impacts of suburbanization in our country. On this point, I do not fault New Urbanism. But on the tougher issue of urban redevelopment, I don't see New Urbanism as a strong approach. A city with policies that support and provides incentives to developers to risk their investments in urban areas is perhaps the best approach.

Ultimately, it is cheaper to build in the suburban greenfields, and with the pursuit of the American Dream and all its associated underpinnings such as home ownership and sending kids to good schools, it doesn't make any sense for many developers to spend the time and money to find a market that will move back to the city.
 

Jeff

Cyburbian
Messages
4,161
Points
27
Is there a way I can put a filter on my profile to filter out anything with the words New Urbanism in it?
 

PlannerGirl

Cyburbian Plus
Messages
6,377
Points
28
This is sad, we as planners have become so...disenchanted with NU or break it down more with a type of planning.

Just my thoughts.
 

Wannaplan?

Galactic Superstar
Messages
3,111
Points
26
PlannerGirl said:
This is sad, we as planners have become so...disenchanted with NU or break it down more with a type of planning.

Just my thoughts.
Are you saying that planning professionals shouldn't think critically about New Urbanism? That we should accept it at face value?
 

PlannerGirl

Cyburbian Plus
Messages
6,377
Points
28
No Im not saying that at all. I saw some pretty pittiful examples of it in NC-but it does seem to call to a set market (one we as trench level planners will never enjoy)

It bothers me that the examples of NU we tend to see are so..."fake" that we, at least some of us, dont care for it.

I think its a great IDEA, so far Im not sure I have seen it in reality where I was thrilled with it.
 

swm

Member
Messages
8
Points
0
Re: Re: The Real New Urbanism

Beaner said:

But your point about New Urbanism, I think, fails to see what New Urbanism is all about. It is my understanding that New Urbanism is an approach that addresses many issues, including voracious land consumption, pollution, and social disintegration, among others. In many ways, it is an approach to minimize the impacts of suburbanization in our country. On this point, I do not fault New Urbanism. But on the tougher issue of urban redevelopment, I don't see New Urbanism as a strong approach. A city with policies that support and provides incentives to developers to risk their investments in urban areas is perhaps the best approach.

I don't mean to slam NU; it's good that there is such a well thought-out response to unmanaged growth. It does offer a seemingly workable alternative, and I agree with most of its tenets in principle (tho I do think it's fundamentally flawed, but I won't get into it here).

The point of my post is that most of the discourse about good urban form and NEW urbanisms revolves only around 1) sprawl and 2) NU. However, the extent of it usually is 1a) sprawl is bad and costly, and 2) is NU good or bad? does NU do this or that? can we do NU here?...

What about finding new precedents and new models? What else "works" and is acceptable/palatable to us, and why don't we talk about developing them? There are of course scores of unique, interesting cities out there that aren't remotely close to NU and are successful.

In my old job, we master planned large new developments abroad and did some interesting stuff. And we looked at analogies around the world, not just old-world examples of urbanism; but it was never brought together (it was work, not academia) into any kind of philosophy or something like that. I'm just tired of hearing about NU as the only alternative to sprawl here in the states (and tired of running into those clique-y Calthorpe kids at happy hour)

what Beaner said about evaluating each place on its own terms is spot-on. NU or any other model has to be fit into the individual place it's being applied to. I just wonder why nobody ever talks about what those other models might be...
 

Cardinal

Cyburbian
Messages
10,078
Points
33
I just saw an ad with line "No New Urbanists." That doesn't inspire me. It tells me that they want to hire someone who is resistant to new ideas, who does not keep up with current planning theory, and who is simply content to spew out the same kind of crapplats for the same kind of suburban sprawl that we all recognize is flawed. Give me the New Urbanists any day. At least they have the courage, initiative, and creativity to propose an alternative.
 

Wannaplan?

Galactic Superstar
Messages
3,111
Points
26
Re: Re: Re: The Real New Urbanism

swm said:
What else "works" and is acceptable/palatable to us, and why don't we talk about developing them?
Okay, I like where this discussion is going! Do you want to start?

What else, besides New Urbanism, works as a good approach to planning cities and places? I'm not picking on New Urbanism here, as we could easily substitute New Urbanism with other cookie-cutter approaches to planning such as the Big Project approach (i.e. casinos and sports stadia in Detroit) or Transit Oriented Development, to name a few.

I must throw caution to the wind, though: How can we have a productive discussion without it folding into a quasi-intellectual exchange rooted in academic theories or planning bibles like Lynch's "Good City Form"? Perhaps this could be a good start to get things rolling, but I think we should avoid singling out good planning theories as gospel without applying them to real cities or case studies.

Anyone game?
 

Cardinal

Cyburbian
Messages
10,078
Points
33
Perhaps we would find that great cities are not formed by a single approach, but by many. We could have neighborhoods of turn-of-the-20th-century two- and three-flats, neighborhood commercial areas, a downtown with high-rises and offices, blue-collar neighborhoods near the factories, bunglow districts from the 30's to 50's, traditional suburbs and new urbanism all in the mix.
 

BKM

Cyburbian
Messages
6,464
Points
29
My rant

I think observation is the main starting point, and it something we often neglect. We often get so wrapped up in the daily minutiae of our professions that we don't ask basic questions anymore.

My biggest problem right now with my profession (and particularly California suburban development) is that the neighborhoods that I like the most cannot be built anymore. I love the San Francsico alley streets, the staircase streets that don't meet ADA requirements, the little Storybook style bungalow courts that don't provide three car garages for every unit, the three-flat buildings occupied by an owner occupant on the first floor. We aren't building neighborhoods that I would like anymore.

But of course, as I've acknowledged before, my tatses are not universal by any means :)

This is the Duaney/NU Criticism as well, but the problem with their arguments is that I doubt that it is solely or even primarily planners' fault. Most of the problems I see, frankly, are public works and "safety" standards. Our Fire Department insists that it needs to drive their new huge ladder truck down a subdivision street with one and two story tract homes. That means bigger streets and wider curves. We don't allow alleys anymore because it costs more to maintain them.

Even more seriously, though, a combination of "the rules" and planning process and market forces means that everything is built on a mass scale by large builders and national chains. There is no more local character or quirkyness, everything is professionalized and rationalized.

I don't know what the answer is. This is just my rant of the morning.
 

Cardinal

Cyburbian
Messages
10,078
Points
33
Good points, BKM, but don't fool yourself on the idea of local character and quirkiness. Sadly, they are also gone. Most of our local builders have at most one or two different plans that they purchased from one of the design shops, who in turn have sold copies to builders in just about every community within a hundred miles. Our small builders are afraid to try anything new, whether it is something different that the one-story ranch with front-loading garage, or the design of a subdivision. In fact, the bigger developers are more often willing to go the extra mile by (if you can believe this) dedicating more park land than required, or even (gasp!) including a bike path in the subdivision! I have seen a local builder, when provided with an alley, build three front-loaded garage homes facing the alley and turning their backs to the street, rather than have a detached garage or search out a home plan with a rear-entry garage. Still, I think we need to be optimists. We can perhaps identify a few good projects, talk them up, and do what we can to remake the rules.
 

BKM

Cyburbian
Messages
6,464
Points
29
What's even sadder is how boring and poorly designed CUSTOM homes are. Most people build that same plan pumped up with extra-large media rooms and garages.

Still, we're descending now into matters of "taste," and who am I to say?
 

Cardinal

Cyburbian
Messages
10,078
Points
33
My tastes are unquestionably better than most other people's. I am more than willing to criticize them for inept planning and schlock architecture.
 

DA Monkey

Cyburbian
Messages
84
Points
4
Really interesting discussion, its like being back at uni again, and not so suprising - there is no real outcome.

I do not mean that as a criticism, i feel argument and discussion is neccessary to explore an issue, Im just confused as to the results.

Was the original question about what new forms of urban development are out there?

Id like to hear any answers on that question.

In my State we recently introduced performance based planning and threw out zoning controls. We also intoduced Local Area Plans and concepts like suburban centres, emerging communities and hazard mitigation policies.

We are experimenting with TOD's, NU developments and Master Planned Communities (as well as the golf course/residential development thing), but the thing that seems to break up our more traditional "queenslander" suburbs and coastal communities is the advent of small lot housing and the rendered concrete, architect designed, boxy style of small family home. Many older, character homes are demolished to be replaced by two of these new style of homes - the new homes certainly go a long way towards degrading the traditional community amenity.

But aside from the design issue - is the small lot housing really a bad thing, or is it simply a reflection of changing community values - I dont know the answer?

The big question for me is can performance based planning achieve better outcomes than other models of planning? Have we as planners got the appropriate tools and the courage (like the NU people) to try new forms of urban development when we find them.

Sorry for the ramble, its a pretty quiet day
 

Wannaplan?

Galactic Superstar
Messages
3,111
Points
26
Where were we? Let us heed powerplan's question:

Was the original question about what new forms of urban development are out there?

Id like to hear any answers on that question.
This is swm getting us back on track:

The point of my post is that most of the discourse about good urban form and NEW urbanisms revolves only around 1) sprawl and 2) NU. However, the extent of it usually is 1a) sprawl is bad and costly, and 2) is NU good or bad? does NU do this or that? can we do NU here?...

What about finding new precedents and new models? What else "works" and is acceptable/palatable to us, and why don't we talk about developing them? There are of course scores of unique, interesting cities out there that aren't remotely close to NU and are successful.
While thinking about swm's words, powerplan has another juicy bit that will become relevent later in this post:

The big question for me is can performance based planning achieve better outcomes than other models of planning? Have we as planners got the appropriate tools and the courage (like the NU people) to try new forms of urban development when we find them.
]Looks like swm is looking for "new urbanisms", which I would interpret as looking for or discovering new ways that civilization has or can settle and build its cities. History shows us that different societies have the capacity to build diverse settlements that vary in urban form. This is true, but I don't think the evaluation should result in an assessment that is restricted to a description of how a city or settlement looks. Aesthetics and form are one thing, but they do not stand alone. Technology, culture, and the environment play a key role in how a settlement or a city thrives and feels. Cities transcend the bricks, wood, steel, glass, concrete, or Drivet that is put into the ground. Cities are about people and what they do in these places. Look at a culture and its values and you will see what makes a city work. From this perspective, what merit does the search for good urban form and "new urbanisms" have to do with the determination of a good city or a good place?

Now, I would like to address powerplan's assertion about planners having the appropriate tools & courage to try new forms of urban development. Great question. I'm not sure I have a hopeful answer. Perhaps there aren't any new urban forms out there to be discovered. Some would say that New Urbanism is a new form of urban development. Others might say that it isn't new - it's just been rediscovered and is being implemented on empty greenfields. I'm with the latter group.

But I don't consider myself such a lonesome nihilistic bystander. There are two things that might give us new urban forms, and it has nothing to do with the planning profession:

1) My money is on the architects. Their language is about the relationship of space and about using a pallatte of diverse materials, both classic and innovative.

2) Development of new technology and it's assimilation into the culture. We see and experience everyday how trains and automobiles have transformed the settlement landscape of the Western world.

If we are lucky, some planner may one day discover a new urban form. But somehow, I highly doubt it. We seem to be immersed in the management of the implementation and consequences of these forms.
 

Wannaplan?

Galactic Superstar
Messages
3,111
Points
26
Michael Stumpf said:
Perhaps we would find that great cities are not formed by a single approach, but by many.
I think this is true. But would I be mistaken to believe that the planning approaches used to make a great city are really an expression of the desires of the people? Which is to say that planners write plans with outcomes that are already predetermined by the desires of the people, by the agendas of the politicians, and by the influence and fear administered by the powerful.

Off topic, sort of...

BKM said:
What's even sadder is how boring and poorly designed CUSTOM homes are.
Unfortunately, in America, it seems most planners are steeped in the process of planning places for the fickle Middle Class who move, on average, once every five years and strive for the American Dream of private property and a new home.

Of course, and this is stating the obvious, that's not everyone in this country. I am interested in the planning of marginalized populations, and I find that my work days revolve around the planning of single-family detached homes. Most clients don't want to even think about people with disabilities or low-incomes. It never comes up, and I think they are an important piece of the spectrum that make great places. I guess you could say that I'm an advocate of diversity.
 

DA Monkey

Cyburbian
Messages
84
Points
4
Beaner said:


But I don't consider myself such a lonesome nihilistic bystander. There are two things that might give us new urban forms, and it has nothing to do with the planning profession:

1) My money is on the architects. Their language is about the relationship of space and about using a pallatte of diverse materials, both classic and innovative.

2) Development of new technology and it's assimilation into the culture. We see and experience everyday how trains and automobiles have transformed the settlement landscape of the Western world.

If we are lucky, some planner may one day discover a new urban form. But somehow, I highly doubt it. We seem to be immersed in the management of the implementation and consequences of these forms.
I cant believe Im finding this discussion interesting, Ive fallen a long way since my days before the porcelain god!!

Nevertheless, I find myself in agreement with the general theme behind Beaners comments, but I do have a little of a different slant on things.

I dont think architects will be the next change agents, I even wonder if they ever were.

I think that engineers (shudder) are the people of the moment and have been for some time. After all, my thoughts are more towards the issue that it is the infrastructural form, technology and rules that set the basic patterns for urban form.

Networked infrastructure is one of the causes of urban sprawl. "containing a system of street lights" used to be one of ways to define an urban area. Sewerage networks, water supply - the basics of civilisation (People still marvel at Roman accomplishments).

As technology advanced and cars became common, roads rose to prominance as one of the defining paradigms of urban form.

I also feel that infrastructure is changing again - telematics, fibre optics, microwave/satellite, improved cabling, distributive generation and naturally the changes wrought by IT advances. I feel that these may be the drivers of new urban form in developed countries.

Afterall, in the Australian Outback (sort of) there has just been an approval granted for a wind tower - a tower over 1km high that acts as a power source for a new community as well as an alternate generator for the national grid.

The special environmental factors, the construction etc have given rise to the design of a new style of community - isolated, self sufficient and technologically advanced and it has special environmental issues being in an arid area but creating high humidity.

Perhaps its these sort of changes which will have the greatest impact on our next urban pattern.
 
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