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fearlessvk

Politics of "New Urbanism"?

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Hi all!

So first of all this topic is NOT intended to spark a contentious political debate! Rather, I'm new to the terminology and debates within urban planning and urban theory, and the more I think about the major issues that seem to spring up in cities and divide communiites, the more it seems like they often traverse typical ideological and political boundaries, forming weird and unexpected coalitions. In trying to get a handle of "new urbanism" - a new concept to me - I'm trying to figure out if it has a clear politics... what I mean is...

On the one hand, it seems like there's a lot of lefty preoccupations involved here. Anti-sprawl and anti-suburbanization attitudes seem to involve a lot of typical left commitments - to environmentalism, to limiting car culture, to maintaining cultural diversty as against the homogenization of chain stores and strip malls. On the other hand, apart from requiring appropriate zoning laws, I *think* new urbanism entails a commitment to a bottom-up, free-market driven development process (but maybe I'm wrong - this is where I'm just beginning to figure this stuff out!) that I would associate more with the right, or at least with economic conservatism. It also seems that the emphasis placed upon redeveloping "blighted" parts of cities often produces the kind of gentrification typically decried by the left, driving out long-term residents who can no longer afford to live in "improving" neighborhoods.

Now I might be completely misrepresenting/misunderstanding what new urbanism is really all about. But I'm curious what others think - is this a left thing? A right thing? Neither one? Does it defy ordinary political categories? Do I just have absolutely no clue what I'm talking about?? :)

S

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It may not be relevant but I think that the solution to sprawl is not "new urbanism" but building homes closer together rather than spaced out. Having lived in the Bay Area in California, I have grown to love the older neighborhods in SF, Oakland, and Berkeley where stately homes are built side by side and still keep their personality. to me that will attract people to consider urban living an aternative to the suburbs rather than "cookie cutter" mixed use projects that lack uniqueness.

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Well, yes it is a bit of a mix between left and right ideologies, but it really is not political in nature by itself. But then again those tendencies are hardly key cornerstones of conservative or liberal givenrments anyway.

The first thing to understand about New Urbanism is that it really isn't completely urban in nature - that is, it's about towns, not cities. Secondly, New Urbanism is very specific in it's philosophy - following the charter of the New Urbanism, but many (if not most) people tend to completely ignore that and assign all sorts of thinking to New Urbanism which really isn't.

I think you find that many traditional urbanists are really quite displeased with New Urbanism. In my mind I tend to think of New Urbanism as conservative - pretty little homes in a sterile neighborhood where everything is perfect and all the "bad" things in the wolrd are kept out, where everyone has to act all happy. But then again that's my interpretation of it, I could also say that Urbanism is all about showing off and feeling smug. Whose' to say what is right? It's just opinion.

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It's hard to define New Urbanism along political lines, because I think there already are or will be soon other factors that will drive both sides of the political spectrum into forming smarter growth patterns, one of them New Urbanism.

Some projects do seem to be products of the right. They are free market by allowing private development, but now days developers want to throw something up quick to make a quick buck, and that typically means uniformity, or staggered uniformity. A neighborhood no longer develops over time, rather, it is prefabricated and waiting for residents to move in. These create sort of "gated" communities in the sense that it attracts people of uniform incomes and even sometimes, uniform social ideas. Since developers wantt to make good money, they develop for people with money when they have the chance.

At the same time, however, in smaller communities where "new Urbanist" or smart growth policies come into effect, there is often a more "Mixed-income" flavor to it because there simply isn't enough demand for a large-scale development with only one type of income bracket.

For example, in my city, high school students typically build 2 houses or so per year that are then sold to low-income families at a discount price because it was built by volunteers in exchange for high school credits. The houses are often built in established, middle-class neighborhoods. They are middle-class quality houses, sold at a low price. This isn't really New Urbanism.. but it is thinking outside the box, and isn't that was New Urbanism is anyway?

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The design components or the ideas of New Urbanism are not themselves political. New Urbanism design tends to follow the way we built cities before WWII. I'm sure that we can find both conservatives and liberals who would love to live in a relatively dense, mixed-use neighborhood and both conservatives and liberals who would rather live in a single-family garage on Tiger Lily Lane.

The regulation involved with today's New Urbanist communities is what tends to become politicized. Ideally, at least in my mind, communities would be constructed where each new building or development would both reflect current development patterns and respecting surrounding development. New Urbanism cannot rely on idealistic or respectful developers, so it relies on sometimes heavy-handed regulation. Conservatives tend to dislike restrictions placed upon their properties. I consider myself to be a "lefty", but I believe that some design restrictions that go far. More liberal people tend to promote the restrictions because they feel that the regulation will create a more uniform community with a stronger "sense of place."

I think you're right that it is important to separate the political aspects of regulation in New Urbanism and the politically-neutral design components that strive to identify aspects of a well-designed community.

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I think it is also important to separate what aspects are political - the governmental issues, etc., and what is really just design or philosophical issues, such as conformity and lifestyle. Unfortunately, as in every issue, those lines are not always going to be seen clearly. You may want to try reading the What is New Urbanism thread, to at least get a feel for the many different ways different people view New Urbainsm, since no two people really seem to look at it the same way.

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Back to basics for New Urbanism: Here are the 13 principles:

Principles of the New Urbanism

The heart of the New Urbanism is in the design of neighborhoods, which can be defined by 13 elements, according to town planners Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, two of the founders of the Congress for the New Urbanism. An authentic neighborhood contains most of these elements:

1) 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.

2) Most of the dwellings are within a five-minute walk of the center, an average of roughly 2,000 feet.

3) There are a variety of dwelling types

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Nice response strmchsr77, looks like you've been reading up on this or maybe you've already known a lot about this. I have to say I haven't really thought of New Urbanism being attached to politics. While I do agree with putting houses closer as greens has said, I think that is still a limited effort. New Urbanism works more on building communities inside the city. One aspect I like is not having to be so dependant on vehicles. A lot more is within walking distance. You don't live in a suburb at the edge of the city and have to drive all the way back in just to do simple things like go buy groceries and such. You'll always have places to go that you still might need your vehicle. But I think having more things within walking distance is a big plus.

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And that is where the problems lie in defining New Urbanism. The first 12 principles are purely design guidelines. They do not tlak about the community or anything about the people - only how things are laid out and work. And to be honest, they are pretty limited to a certain style - if not decoration, at least a style of layout and structure.

However, AD/EPZ are only one firm practicing this, and many other firms have taken off on their own tangents with it. And even more so, the architectural critics at large have kind of redefined it even more. So relating back to the original question, it does tend to have a lot of politics involved with it. Not necessarily as intended by the movement creators, but perhaps by those outside of the movement trying to fit it into a particular position.

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I think some of it might be in general demographics. Urban cities tend to be comprised of (and attract) younger, single and more diverse populations, and tend to lean more liberal. Suburbs and rural areas, where the sprawl is most prevalent, tend to attract more married couples with kids, who are looking for bigger houses in safe neighborhoods outside the crowded city center. They are probably more moderate to conservative politically.

It is probably a mix of both, depending on the regions of the country.

I do agree that these new communities need to be planned with mass transit in mind.

BTW, such generalizations remind me of the current Apple/Mac ads with the hip, young Mac user (the urban Dem) and the stodgy, inflexible, clueless PC user (the suburban Repub). Not necessarily my opinion but my impression of Apple's thinking. Everything is perception....

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