New Urbanism is a popular idea in planning communities. Most anyone involved in planning has heard of New Urbanism and has an idea what that means, but for those that are unfamiliar with the idea New Urbanism can be generally thought of as a design approach that promotes walkability, traffic elimination, “green “ building, and fosters community. It is most certainly a novel idea. What could be bad about the root ideals of New Urbanism?
New Urbanism has done well in a few key ways. First it has been an effective critique of some failings of city planning, such as automobile centered design. New Urbanists promote community design that reduces wide roads, and expansive parking lots, with the intention of advocating human powered transportation. It is a brick and mortar, tangible community that people can see and feel. New Urbanism has also provided an example of what to do and not to do for planners and communities that want to promote change in their area; but the effects of those changes are generally limited to specific neighborhoods and communities.
Some major critiques of New Urbanism are that its effective area is confined to the neighborhood boundaries, it may be used as a marketing scheme by developers, and it is hard to implement in existing neighborhoods. In a New Urbanism neighborhood, the residents can utilize the pedestrian friendly streets and close amenities; but the benefits of the neighborhood are limited to the residents. The appeal of New Urbanist communities is also one of its failings. With people becoming more interested in sustainability, and green living, the ideas of New Urbanism have been used by developers to promote their planned communities. The problem with the marketing of New Urbanist ideas without the proper implementation is best explained by Peter Katz “The commercial success of projects designed according to these principles has resulted in superficial emulations for marketing purposes… As a result, the public can now buy conventional suburbia styled as “villages” or “neighborhoods” which the press proclaims are representative of the new movement. This inability to discriminate between the New Urbanism and its hollow imitations will, over time, result in the conclusion that its promised social, economic, and environmental benefits have been false. The movement may then be seen as just another fad.” Also It is intrinsically difficult to implement new Urbanism ideas in pre-existing neighborhoods because it requires extensive infrastructure change. A perfect example of the successes and failures of New Urbanism is the Civano neighborhood on the outskirts of Tucson, Arizona.
The planners at Civano made a concentrated effort to use sustainable building materials such as straw bails, and RASTRA blocks. The planners at Civano also incorporated solar power, and a community nursery. They designed the neighborhood with a community center where the residents have open space to interact and hold events. The narrow, walkable street design in Civano is also in line with New Urbanist planning. The main issue with Civano, is its location. The neighborhood is approximately 17 miles from the University of Arizona, which represents the beginning of Tucson’s urban core. For the residents of Civano to interact with anyone that isn’t a member of the community , they have to drive further than most other sprawl communities. The distance from large retailers and grocers also presents a problem. The shear distance Civano residents must travel to do the majority of their shopping undermines the ideals of the community.
Civano is a successful microcosm, but it exemplifies the deficiencies of New Urbanism in that Civano hasn’t improved the Tucson Community as a whole. New Urbanism will continue to have a limited large scale effect, unless communities as a whole embrace the pillars of New Urbanist thinking, and work on implementing the ideas on a regional basis.
If New Urbanism becomes a marketing scheme, that ultimately promotes sprawl , it will be a huge detriment to the progress of environmentally conscious living. New Urbanist communities will always be built by developers whose goal is to make a profit. Usually the cheapest, and easiest land to develop is on the outskirts of town, so even with the best environmental design, the negative effects of a remote location counteract the benefits.
New Urbanism is effective on a small scale, but to really be able to effect change planners and citizens alike must promote the ideals of New Urbanism on a regional scale. If walkability, “green” building, and community involvement are limited to exclusive outskirt communities, the residents of the region as a whole will be harmed more than helped.