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What's 'New' in New Urbanism - Part One: Squeaky Clean

Inspired by a lecture by Andres Duany at CNU XV, May 2007.

Any studied urbanist will tell you that authentic neighborhoods are not tidy.  They are not ordered.  They are not perfect.  Rather, they develop over time, and are filled with oddities that make them unique.

However, in creating "new" urban environments, or when breathing life into dead "old" urbanism, the competition is suburbia.  And, in fact, the newest construction in suburbia.  And suburbia is squeaky clean. 

A suburban retail development (one that's successful) is managed, and kept safe and tidy.  Expenditures on private police, cameras, and lights are all easily justified.  Just one crime could cost the retailers, and therefore the developer, hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue.   A healthy suburban shopping center must be safe, and must be perceived as safe.  A clean environment implies a safe environment, and helps to keep a positive image of the center.

Flash back to the city street.  Cities are often mired in slow-to-change systems designed to save money, not maximize quality.  If a development owner sees an overflowing trashcan, heads roll.  If a city employee sees a full trash can, it still waits until trash day.

On the residential side, suburbanites are accustomed to a certain maintenance standard, enforced by the homeowners' association.  It is expected, and demanded, that the homeowner properly care for the exterior of their dwelling and landscape.  Not so on the individual city lots of yore. 

Don't misunderstand -- I am not in favor of overzealous HOA's, nor cookie cutter houses with managed color palettes.  However, this is the new norm in which New Urbanism must craft its diverse townscapes.


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