House in Seaside by Alexander Gorlin Architects
What New Urbanists Get Right
(Continued from New Urbanism: Why Does It Look So Old?)
New Urbanists have wisely studied, analyzed and understood the best towns and cities that predate the auto – urban environments built for people, not for cars. Rather than generating town planning principles based on the paradigm shifting automobile, New Urbanists returned to the archetype refined through five thousand years of human history, have understood its essential ingredients, and crafted those ingredients into an urban design template for cities that accommodate the automobile, but are built for people. Pedestrian circulation, not autos, is the major form determinate. New Urbanists have adapted city planning principles based on people and quality of life to the needs of the automobile, rather than adapting city planning based on the auto to needs and lifestyle concerns of people. 12 of the defining elements of New Urbanism (as defined by Wikipedia) describe an outstanding place to live:
The neighborhood has a discernible center. This is often a square or a green and sometimes a busy or memorable street corner. A transit stop would be located at this center.
Most of the dwellings are within a five-minute walk of the center, an average of roughly 1/4 mile or 1,320 feet (0.4 km).
There are a variety of dwelling types — usually houses, rowhouses, and apartments — so that younger and older people, singles, and families, the poor, and the wealthy may find places to live.
At the edge of the neighborhood, there are shops and offices of sufficiently varied types to supply the weekly needs of a household.
A small ancillary building or garage apartment is permitted within the backyard of each house. It may be used as a rental unit or place to work (for example, an office or craft workshop).
An elementary school is close enough so that most children can walk from their home.
There are small playgrounds accessible to every dwelling — not more than a tenth of a mile away.
Streets within the neighborhood form a connected network, which disperses traffic by providing a variety of pedestrian and vehicular routes to any destination.
The streets are relatively narrow and shaded by rows of trees. This slows traffic, creating an environment suitable for pedestrians and bicycles.
Buildings in the neighborhood center are placed close to the street, creating a well-defined outdoor room.
Parking lots and garage doors rarely front the street. Parking is relegated to the rear of buildings, usually accessed by alleys.
Certain prominent sites at the termination of street vistas or in the neighborhood center are reserved for civic buildings. These provide sites for community meetings, education, and religious or cultural activities.
The neighborhood is organized to be self-governing. A formal association debates and decides matters of maintenance, security, and physical change.
“The New Urbanism, Toward an Architecture of Community” started the movement well with its thoughtful and foundational analysis of the towns and cities of the past. The essays in the book suggest a thorough understanding of streets and squares, open space and urban rooms, walking distance, defensible space and public to private hierarchy. It is a planning paradigm that accounts for daily needs, for a trip to the grocery, a stroll with the dog, a rush to school or work. It is timeless planning that does not require people to travel to a destination to experience (yet rarely interact with) people, but instead provides multiple opportunities for interaction, discourse and even lifelong relationships in the midst of everyday living.