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.
“New” Town of Kentlands by Duany and Plater-Zyberk
New Urbanism: Why Does It Look So Old?
The early New Urbanist defining work, “The New Urbanism, Toward an Architecture of Community” by Peter Katz, with an afterward by no less than Vincent Scully and essays by New Urbanist evangelists Todd W. Bressi, Peter Calthorpe, Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Elizabeth Moule and Stefanos Polyzoides, annunciated the intellectual foundation for the movement that started in the early 90’s, and increasingly influences urban and suburban planning today. The New Urbanist pattern, ironically established in green farmland or wetlands in early communities such as Seaside, Kentlands, Windsor, Wellington and Playa Vista, has taken a firm hold on the development community, and is the established paradigm for many a development today.
“New” Town of Kentlands by Duany and Plater-Zyberk
Rejection of Technology
At its intellectual core, New Urbanism is the rejection of a technology, the automobile, and the enormous affect that technology has had not just on planning, but on the way we live. There is no disputing that the automobile has radically changed our lifestyles. The automobile affords us a great deal of mobility, freedom, autonomy, while it has made the world smaller and allows us freedom to travel, flexibility in where we live, work and play. Yet it also isolates us, places substantial demands on our time and finances, and, without thoughtful planning, renders our communities ultimately unfriendly to both pedestrian and driver alike.
The song says “Nobody walks in LA.” Los Angeles, and the vast majority of other towns and cities built since the automobile became the primary mode of transportation, are fundamentally different than those cities built before the auto. While newer cities allow more lifestyle and home choices, and certainly provide more opportunities in pursuit of a single family home, the “American Dream,” much is also lost. Postauto cities, to create a neology, provide few places to walk, to informally gather and congregate. Parks are often empty, and the mall, or its recent replacement, the lifestyle retail center, become the destinations. Though destination “lifestyle” centers fill with people, they fill largely with strangers, scores of people who share an experience yet rarely interact. A traditional town square, however, is quite the opposite – not so much a destination as a point of connection on the WAY to a destination. One who has spent time in an Italian piazza quickly observes that few people go to the piazza. Instead, one passes through the piazza on one’s way, on foot, to another destination. Walking into the piazza one is frequently distracted by a friend, market or activity, a casual social collision far more meaningful than any on Facebook or Twitter.
Water, especially with (small) boats, green, places to sit, people to watch and open space are always popular in an urban environment.
This curving liquid spine is the literal and figurative backbone of the city, connecting tourist destinations to “town centers” for locals.
People, activity, water, opportunities to wander and outstanding views of Prague’s town center.
Morocco’s largest souk spills into this grand square, Marrakesh’s town center, that comes alive with food and entertainment and the sun’s shadows lengthen and the cool of the evening gives relief to the heat of the day.
New Orleans food and jazz, the highest concentration of colorful people to watch, cafes, retail and entertainment for all.
Retail design at its roots – people, people, people.
A small waterfront square with outstanding views of the Bosphorus with cafés, restaurants, art galleries and artisan shops.
Before there were theme parks – long before there were theme parks – there were the Tivoli Gardens. A mixture of nature and amusement, Tivoli has been a favorite pastime during the long days of Copenhagen’s remarkable Summer since 1843.
The birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is steeped with history and romance, and its outstanding streets and squares filled with people, retail shops and restaurants.
Bryant Park is a peaceful place in the midst of Manhattan’s towers and crowds. Just blocks from Times Square, this “Town Center” park is a favorite with locals seeking sun, sleep or society.
Since 1461, Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar has served as the city’s retail hub. 250,000 to 400,000 people a day wander the Bazaar’s streets, domed bedestens and dine in its shaded outdoor courts.
Built 2000 years ago by the Romans, this ancient retail district has thrived ever since, and is worth study by anyone interested in creating a thriving retail place.
The Piazzas at the heart of this stunning Tuscan city are multi purpose, and are frequently and quickly repurposed – a late night outdoor theater becomes an early morning farmers’ market.
State Street, where the pedestrian comes first, the auto a distant second, is always active, always filled with people. It is a thriving outdoor retail and entertainment center where the primary form of entertainment is watching all the people.
This stunning Southern Bohemian city, along with the castle perched above it, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and dates to the 13th century. This small but gorgeous town, bifurcated by its “S” shaped river, is an easy and rewarding walk.
Prague’s town square, with its animated clock, variety of architectural styles, retail shops, cafes and restuarants, as well as its proximity to a plethora of outstanding streets and districts is only rivaled in Northern Europe by the much larger Paris.