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Vourmbianigoat

Does New Urbanism go too far?

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A recent trip to Daniel Island gave me a new thought on the whole concept of New Urbanism. In the past I figured it to be the greatest way to develop a community since it incorporates all sorts of things which I figure to be critical to a perfect community--mixed use buildings, typically the use of light rail to move smoothly, and a community that is a pleasure to walk around and live in. These thoughts sound wonderful but when it gets to the execution by the developers there's absolutely no way that they can pull off projects similar to a naturally developing community it just isn't possible. The architecture of the buildings never seem to vary and the appearance of the cummunity overall is bland and lacking true character.

Instead of the massive fabrication of a community perhaps the better place for New Urbanism lies in mini projects here and there that suggest development mindful of traditional new urbanist ideas which can be carried out totally separate and naturally occuring.

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I have always heard the lack of character in Daniel Island is in part due to SCDOT. The island's transportation basically revolves around its two interstate exits, and its really just the one that most people use. DOT required the main road (Seven Farms Drive) to be way to wide. It makes the "downtown" area loose a lot of character. So, to answer your question, I think its not so much the architecture as it is the general design that was forced onto the developers because of government standards that are not conducive to urban development. Its evidence that SCDOT did not, and probably does not, have the ability to allow an urban street to be built.

I think that new urbanism done well can work just fine, but it can only be done right as infill IMO. Places like Daniel Island are great examples of what is wrong with new urbanism, not because of their design, but because of the fact that they are totally dependent on cars to live there (unless of course you happen to work at one of the handful of companies on the island).

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Generally, just about any newly built structure will have a sense of sterility to it, but that feeling can be multiplied when it does come to new urbanist development. However, as Spartan said, having it done within an existing urban context can take some of the sterility away. Existing roads, mature trees, etc. give such projects a certain sense of legitimacy to me.

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Time is the thing that will make the homogenous and bland New Urban projects like Daniel Island more and more interesting:

1- Buildings will be replaced or renovated randomly with more updated styles. Walk down the street in a city and you will see a variety of styles reflective of their time period. This will take the longest time, but will come eventually.

2- Trees and other plantings will mature.

3- More employers will move in to provide a reason to leave the car behind.

4- A variety of uses will mean a variety of scale and design for the buildings to be built. For example, civic buildings, commercial storefronts, ecclesiastical buildings, educational buildings, etc. are all quite heterogenous by definition.

5- Success will breed demand for a) amenities and b) innovative designs to augment the value of what's already there. For example, a) pocket parks, linear parkways, and other greenspace, restaurants with cuisine not already represented, etc. and b) bolder designs by "hot" architects eager to be included in the trendier or "hot" areas (but had ignored them until time-tested).

I am optimistic concerning New Urbanism. It is a wonderful trend, IMO, and one that is unstoppable now.

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One of the first New Urbanist communities in the US was called Harbor Town, which is located on Mud Island (an island in the Misssissippi River in downtown Memphis, TN). It really is a wonderful community, but I haven't seen it replicated in the same way. The architecture varies from Georgian to Charleston-style to New Orleans Creole to very contemporary. The community has been developing for 20 years now, and it just keeps getting better. Here's an article on the development: http://www.tndhomes.com/tour01.htm. Here is an excerpt:

Looney [the architect] feels the success of Harbor Town comes from its refusal to allow the homes to become tied in to a specific architectural style. "Harbor Town is unique in that, while it carries forth Henry Turley's [the developer's] vision (a diverse community of classically inspired homes making for a great place to live), it uses fundamental basics of classic traditional homes," rather than mimicking history. Some are close interpretations of historic homes; others are contemporary versions. Some visitors to Harbor Town marvel that the homes work so well together, given the varying types and styles of architecture that are present.

But Looney warns against quantifying Harbor Town's architecture. "It's not a formula," he says. "If you maintain the fundamental basics that make for a classic home (streetscape, exterior elements), you don't have to be hung up on being "historical"

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How does our state compare with others as far as New Urbanism? Surprisingly well, as you can see from the article "Where New Urbanism is strong

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^Wow, would have never guessed. And this doesn't even include the projects that haven't started or been finished yet.

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Interesing. I didn't know we had that many new urban projects in SC. I would be interested to a complete list.

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New urbanism is one of those things that is theoretically cooler than it is in reality.

I have yet to find one that presents real solutions to development problems... they are typically just well-dressed suburban subdivisions.... better than the status quo, but not as ground-breaking as people pretend they are.

Ultimately, it comes down to economic diversity. New urbanist subdivisions rarely have it. Economic diversity is something that really only comes from decades of growth and contraction. You need a diversity of housing types, high-income, low-income, middle-income, etc to make it all work. While the communities are advertised as "live-work" the residential pricepoints are such that non-residential space is rarely used by residents. The retail components are typically vacant or heavily subsidized, and almost never employ people that live in the actual community.

I do think it has its place, but only if it's integrated into a larger urban fabric. Having a new urbanist subdivision out the 'burbs is akin to putting a bow tie on a pig. Sure, it's better, but it's still a pig.

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I do think it has its place, but only if it's integrated into a larger urban fabric. Having a new urbanist subdivision out the 'burbs is akin to putting a bow tie on a pig. Sure, it's better, but it's still a pig.

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Thats why I'm so excited about the Magnolia and Noisette projects... these are potentially going to be the best new urban style developments in the state.

New Urbanist proponents will always tell you that economic diversity is a key part of what they promoting.... the problem is that this type of development is still relatively new and the concepts are still trickling down through the development industry. New concepts like this are always sold to the wealthy first, and then the concepts make their way down to the rest of us. Its exactly like the first suburban subdivisions in any city... they were built for the wealthy first. Now they are everywhere.

There are also a lot of projects that are being billed as "new urban" but in reality are not.

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Like Andres Duany said when the point was made that most new urbanist developments have price points that only the upper middle class and upper class can afford: "That's why there needs to be more of them."

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Also, we have to remember that local governments don't always allow New Urbanism to work. There are countless laws on the books today that actually encourage suburban-style development by default. Look at the trouble I'on had, Mt. Pleasant still wouldn't allow schools, or any (at first) commercial or mixed development at all. I'on's developers wanted it to be truly mixed, but did not get all they wanted. Fortunately, the results were excellent anyway, and lightyears ahead of the cul-de-sacced and gated communities so prevalent (but now seen more and more as passe, thanks to I'on and other New Urbanist communities).

Governments need to update their zoning and local ordinances, many with urban renewal principles of the 1960s or 70s still on the books. Gov. Sanford threw out the ridiculous requirement (a state law) that resulted in "mega-schools", which was a small but very smart step in the right direction. Now, this will hopefully continue so that more NU communities can be built as originally planned, and not watered-down.

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You have a good point. It should be mentioned that some of the mixture of land uses was opposed by the residents of MtP too. The original plan called for much more retail space and common space... and ironically its something the desperately need now.

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DS, good point. Spartan, you also have a point about the residents as well. Some of those who reside in NU developments are against creating a natural connectivity with surrounding or future neighborhoods, which really defeats the purpose of New Urbanism to begin with.

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Cars.

Cars are the break point.

The difference between "new urban" and "real urban" is cars.

In a real city, there is public transport because there is density that can make it work. Most people don't own a car, nor do they need to.

In suburbia or new urbia there still isn't enough density for viable public transport. So, everyone still needs cars to get to work and services.

I've been to some cool cities where it was really nice to be able to walk around, hop on trains, grab a cab, etc - but America in general and Charleston specifically is so set up with miles and miles of suburbia. You can't get anywhere without a car. It's frustrating.

So, NU developments are novelties and cool, but they still exist within a car-based context.

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I agree with your point, but even in Charleston, the peninsula was developed before cars existed and they have retrofitted cars into place. Surely if they can accommodate cars downtown and still have a good, dense environment that is capable of serving transit, then new urbanist developments can do the same. IMO its not new urbansim itself, but the greenfield new urbansim that creates this problem. I think that Magnolia is a good example of new urbanism at its finest- reclaiming a poorly used industrial site for a mixed use development that is capable of supporting transit when it comes into the area.

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Fair points. I guess something is better than nothing.

Density is what we lack if we want effective public transport, so I guess this is a good compromise.

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