Is new urbanism old?

The 10 principles of New Urbanism are:

1. Walkability
2. Connectivity
3. Mixed use and diversity
4. Mixed housing
5. Quality architecture and urban design
6. Traditional neighbourhood structure
7. Increased density
8. Smart transportation
9. Sustainability
10. Quality of life

According the wikipedia entry “This new system of development, with its rigorous separation of uses, became known as “conventional suburban development” or pejoratively as urban sprawl, arose after World War II. The majority of U.S. citizens now live in suburban communities built in the last fifty years, and automobile use per capita has soared.

Although New Urbanism as an organized movement would only arise later, a number of activists and thinkers soon began to criticize the modernist planning techniques being put into practice. Social philosopher and historian Lewis Mumford criticized the “anti-urban” development of post-war America. The Death and Life of Great American Cities, written by Jane Jacobs in the early 1960s, called for planners to reconsider the single-use housing projects, large car-dependent thoroughfares, and segregated commercial centers that had become the “norm.”

Rooted in these early dissenters, New Urbanism emerged in the 1970s and 80s with the urban visions and theoretical models for the reconstruction of the “European” city proposed by architect Leon Krier, and the “pattern language” theories of Christopher Alexander.”

New urbanism was fundamentally a social planning movement although it has morphed more recently to include at least a minimalist environmental agenda. Wendy Morris says new urbanism was “….Initially A Reaction to Sprawl…..Now A Basis for Sustainable Urban Growth/Smart Growth…….and a response to Climate Change and Peak Oil…and a Basis for Addressing Physical Health and
Social Well-being.”

Can the old theory of New Urbanism be adapted to adequately address new environmental concerns?

18 thoughts on “Is new urbanism old?

  1. Tom Turner

    In a word, yes.
    If the pedigree of ‘new’ urbanism is extended backwards, it takes us to Patrick Geddes and then to the theories of Repton, Price and Knight. They believed in the creation of a ‘grand transition’ from art to natute. They wanted a gentleman’s park to be have a Beautiful (obviously man-made) foreground, a Picturesque (agricultural) middleground, and a Sublime (wild) background. When this theory was extended, by Geddes, Mumford and others, to town and country planning, it argued for a transition from compact towns, through an agricultural hinterland to natural parks and wild areas. Jane Jacobs, as an urbanite, was simply a believer in the first stage of the transition. But there is a problem with ‘suburbia’: it has no obvious place in the transition. I see it as monoculture and bad for that reason alone.

  2. Tom Turner

    Great pics of Levittowners. They look as though they popped off the end of a production line.
    Re London, I suspect it invented modern suburbia, with its nineteenth century ‘villas’ and then its twentieth century ‘housing on garden city lines’ – but I agree that it does not have a classic example of ‘the problem’ (even if it does have Dagenham).

  3. Christine

    Interesting. And good question…[ ] What is the difference between a housing estate [ ] and a suburb [ ]?

    I wonder if Dagenham was the first suburb or the last metroland or something different again with its genesis as a slum clearance housing estate?

  4. Tom Turner

    Location. A housing estate can be in the central city, providing there is one developer for a large number of units. A suburb must have a semi-rural location.
    The comparison between the English and French words is interesting
    Banlieue = De l’ancien français banlieue, issu du latin médiéval banleuca, « espace d’environ une lieue autour d’une ville, sur lequel s’étendait le ban dans la société féodale ». Banlieue est ainsi apparenté à banal, abandon, aubaine, bande, bannir, etc.
    The ban was the summoning of the sovereign’s vassals for military service (or the body of vassals summoned). So a Banlieue used to be an area out side the ban – and is now an are which is banal!
    The Becontree estate has been banal since it was built but may have a future as a gentrified garden suburb, when Londoners within the ‘new ban’ find themselves as feudal tennants of the owners of large apartment blocks. I live a few hundred meters from a small apartment block and watch the landlords re-decorating the place every few years and levying a large compulsory charge on the the tenants. The adjoining freeholders hardly ever re-decorate the exteriors of their dwellings and often do it themselves. Feudal exploitation marches on.

  5. Christine

    Yes. Well we don’t want feudal exploitation. So what might Feudal non-exploitation look like and what does Fuedal exploitation look like. Or are we to think that it is feudalism per se that is objectionable?

  6. Tom Turner

    From an American perspective, the New Urbanism is likely to be seen as The New Feudalism. Richard Rogers’ political views are definitely leftward. Is the New Urbanism politically left-wing?
    The happy mid-position between raw capitalism and raw socialism is the Co-operative movement. I wish it had more successes.

  7. Tom Turner

    In some respects, I would the UK to be more like Switzerland: weaker national government, stronger local government, weaker armed forces with more emphasis on defence than offence, greater use of referendums when taking great and small decisions, more expenditure on public open space. The days of Britain as a ‘hard power’ are, thankfully, behind us. The future should be as a ‘soft power’ (or a ‘no power’) which can act as an international re-insurance agency for liberty when this is required. However, I see no future for the UK in manufacturing cuckoo clocks.

  8. Christine

    Is new urbanism a politically aligned theory? It would be encouraging to consider that some knowledge could be assessed on an objective rather than a subjective basis.

    I understand that Richard Rogers is a Labour Lord so I guess that means that his views are leftward as this bio suggests. [ ] Perhaps these views have been formed in response to (rightward) Italian Fascism? Or the environment of social reform and hedonism in the 1960s that the bio refers to (whatever this represents as a philosophical foundation)?

    “In 1963 they set up a practice called Team 4, which lasted until 1967. It was composed of Rogers and his first wife Su Brumwell, Foster and his first wife, Wendy.

    It was the start of a decade which was to see an unprecedented questioning of the traditional norms of English society. Hedonism and the construction of a new social order were the priorities. Rogers immersed himself to the full in this ferment, and even today, as a member of the House of Lords, the ideas which inform the management of his practice owe a great deal to it.”

    Noticing Rogers oeuvre on the wiki entry the question arose what is going on here?
    Completed Feb 2006. [ ]
    Completed Nov 2006. [,_Melbourne ]

  9. Tom Turner

    I think the above list of New Urbanism values is more left- than right-wing, though one might have to resort to charicature to sustian the argument. One can think of red necked capitalists wanting private houses, private jets, private cars etc, etc while the red shirted ideologue wants a downtown apartment, a neighbourhood store and a convenient walk to a public transport facility. The capitalist wants red steak, Bourbon and a good life for himself. The socialist wants home grown food, red wine and a good life for everyone.
    Jane Jacobs is said to have been a democrat with a small ‘d’. She was pro-small business etc but seen by her critics as left-wing.

  10. Christine

    Beyond the idea of New Urbanism as either left/right wing theory this paper by Emily Talen [ ] seems to confirm that New Urbanism is a social movement rather than an environmental movement.

    A world in which there could be private houses, private jets, private cares, red steak, bourbon, and a good life as well as downtown apartments, neighbourhood stores and public transport within convenient walking distance, home grown food, red wine and a good life for everyone would be great.

    Do you think the capitalist might invite the socialist home for a glass of red wine and the socialist might invite the capitalist for a bourbon downtown in this scenario? (Perhaps they could discuss Jane Jacobs.)

  11. Tom Turner

    I think New Urbanism is both a social movement and an environmental movement. But everyone being able to have what they want seems libertarian. Bourbon drinkers are more sympathetic to libertarianism than red wine drinkers but don’t like it when New Urbanites exercise a ‘freedom’to constrain the social or environmental activities of capitalists (as in ‘private jets and helicopters shold be banned, because they generate noise and pollution while squandering scarce resources’).

  12. christine

    Tom see p444 of this paper by Neil Smith ‘New Globalism, New Urbanism: Gentrification as a global urban strategy.'[ ]

    Perhaps it is possible to mandate improvements in private jets and helicopters so that are quieter,less polluting and more resource efficient. Capitalists often have the means to show leadership and to invest wisely and generously in these areas, while socialists are particularly adept at advocating for and advancing social programs which, once the public and private benefits have been recognized, often go mainstream. (including telling/encouraging capitalists to do better socially and environmentally.)

    If the young Egyptian King Tutankhamun had thought of the future of Egypt do you think he would have imagined a future without slave labour and without famines, let alone a cure for malaria? Or would he have considered there things too libertarian?
    [ ]

  13. Tom Turner

    Re private jets, one has to remember Thorstein Veblen’s (1899!) Theory of the Leisure Class and his concept of conspicuous consumption. I watched a quarry billionaire on TV a few days ago being filmed on his private jet. I think it cost £2000 in fuel alone to fly from the Channel Islands to see a game of rugby in Leicester. Environmental responsibility seemed far from his thoughts! He had a schoolboy zest for showing off.
    Re Ancient Egypt, I think the role of slave labour was exaggerated by Cecil B DeMille and, curiously, I have a certain sympathy for both Egyptian and Baroque show-offs, because I think they had the ulterior motive of maintaining social order by non-military means (as well as military means, of course).

  14. Christine

    The theory of the leisure class is definitely an old theory. But perhaps, who knows, it is having a renaissance with a greater sense of resource scarcity again dominating society?

    I wonder if the quarry billionaire is proving something to himself or others with his conspicuous display of consumption? (It does seem a little difficult to justify a flight for a football game…)

    Or perhaps he sponsors the team and this is the grand final and he has just finished a long and difficult day of negotiations and the plane is full of his business associates who will also enjoy the game with him? And maybe he is also carbon offsetting the environmental costs of his flight by sponsoring cost intensive ‘green’ research?

  15. Christine

    The interview has a glitch when uploading…

    He seems like a lovely guy quite apart from the more obvious great wealth. And yes, great wealth gives great opportunities to do good. Saving jobs in the industry he loves is a great start and building the ‘green’ businesses of the future is a great strategy.

    At 70(?) he well deserves to also enjoy the benefits of the leisure class – in his garden with his young family – and watching his team do well in competition.

    Do you have photographs of Peter Tom’s garden on Guernsey?


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