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Sunday
Sep252005

Basics of New Urbanism

What makes a "new urban" neighborhood different than a conventional suburb?

Here are some quick (and incomplete) distinctions.

Traditional / New Urban Neighborhoods feature:

1) Streets that go somewhere.

2) Sidewalks that go somewhere, and everywhere.

3) The 5-minute walk.  Your daily needs should be able to be met within a five minute walk.  Some sort of retail, recreation, and socialization should be within 1/4 mile (a five minute walk) of your residence.

4) A center...and an edge.

5) Independence for seniors and adolescents.  Perhaps the best test for a good TND is how it treats residents without automobiles.  Can Senior Citizens and pre-teens live full lives there without a chauffeur, or are they dependent prisoners?

6) Mix of uses.  Housing, shopping, offices all in very close proximity.  This makes it more likely that you can walk to work or the store.  By having uses that are active at different times of day, the area gets the most use out of its streets and parking areas.  And, by being active during more hours, there are that many more "eyes on the street," thereby increasing the safety of the neighborhood.

7) Mix of densities & prices - Can a resident live in the same neighborhood as a single, young family, large family, empty-nester, and senior citizen? Can parents and their adult children and elderly grandparents live near one another?

8) Buildings that respect one another, and (together) create an outdoor room in the space between them.  Many people think New Urbanism is a style of building...requiring old-fashioned architecture.  While a lot of that exists, the most important aspect gets overlooked.  Rather than each building being an "island" surrounded by the sea of streets and parking, buildings are expected to be more like a continuous range of mountains, defining a beautiful valley.

9) "Places worth caring about."  Why do we protest the demolition of an old building, yet cheer the demolition of a dead strip center built in 1980?

Why not let the market decide what people want?

No problem.  But let's make sure that people know what's available.  A vast number of current U.S. citizens grew up in the suburbs, and don't know what it's like to live in a healthy neighborhood in a city or town.  Time and again, when offered a true choice - in the form of a list of amenities, or an actual example dwelling, people prefer traditional neighborhoods.  And, the demand FAR exceeds the current supply, which is why the prices in New Urban neighborhoods get driven up to obscene levels.

Also, another comment on market economics - for decades, the federal government has subsidized construction of new single-family homes and endless highways. Local governments, also, continue to overextend their budgets as they add infrastructure for new development. If we truly wanted to experience market forces, we would need to curtail these auto-biased subsidies.

I still don't want to live in a city!

Great! We have a place for you, too. New urbanists believe in a concept called The Transect....a continuous human ecosystem ranging from the most urban to the most rural, with all stages in between.  Literally, offering something for everyone.  The problem is that most of what has been built in the last 50 years is ONLY suburban. And that suburban development has even encroached on the turf of those who prefer to live rural lives.  

The full range of choices has not been available to the homebuying public, and we want to rectify that situation.

 

Still confused? Perhaps this satire will help...it's the OPPOSITE of everything described above:  The Sprawl Manifesto

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