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Chapter 7 The New Urbanism: ‘‘Organizing Things That Matter’’ As concerned as James Rouse had been about the state of metropolitan America, he never went so far as to develop new principles of design that would overcome the social as well as the physical problems induced by sprawl, crass commercialism, and divided authority over land use decisions. At best, he hoped to promote community by providing magnets for sociability. His vision, even in building the new town of Columbia, did not extend to reforming contemporary culture. That challenge has been taken up more recently by a new generation of architects and critics who, like Rouse, have sought to make more livable places. In addition to being more comprehensive in their intent, they have moved beyond individual enterprises to form a national organization, the Congress for the New Urbanism .1 Asserting in the introduction to their charter the symptoms of a deteriorating quality of life—‘‘more congestion and air pollution resulting from our increased dependence on automobiles, the loss of precious open space, the need for costly improvements to roads and public services, the inequitable distribution of economic resources, and the loss of a sense of community’’—they state their confidence in the social power of design: ‘‘We recognize that physical solutions by themselves will not solve social and economic problems, but neither can economic vitality, community stability , and environmental health be sustained without a coherent and supportive physical framework.’’2 These New Urbanists, one reporter noted, ‘‘want to induce neighborliness with architecture . . . they believe social change can be brought about through architecture and planning.’’3 With acknowledged debts to Ebenezer Howard, to the neighborhood planning ideas of Clarence Arthur Perry, and to the regional approach advocated by Lewis Mumford and Patrick Geddes,4 New Urbanism, as one adherent puts it, stresses ‘‘the conviction that the built environment can create a ‘sense of PAGE 114 ................. 17669$ $CH7 02-23-10 14:11:57 PS The New Urbanism 115 community’ . . . and that a reformulated philosophy about how we build communities will overcome our current civic deficits, build social capital and revive a community spirit which is currently lost.’’5 Echoing the critique that emerged in the 1920s from members of the Regional Planning Association of America, New Urbanists have been critical of the design professions—especially planners—for subordinating the larger goal of vital and attractive communities to technical and formulaic practice. Zoning remains a point of contention, but the critique is broader in being directed at the triumph of commercial capitalism consumed with selling products to niche audiences without much concern about the civic consequences.6 David Brain blames ‘‘the logic of practice embedded in the professional disciplines and organizational fields of those responsible for the process of building particular places.’’ Identifying as the culprit what he calls procedural liberalism, he credits a mature New Urbanism for challenging the professional practices not just of architects and planners, but also ‘‘the standards and routines of traffic engineers, developers, banks and lending institutions, real estate marketing, and even ideas about retail.’’ To create a new ‘‘urbanism,’’ he asserts, ‘‘one is engaged in reconfiguring the social process of place-making and the way physical and visual attributes of places operate as components of a social reality.’’7 What is at issue is not just gated communities, McMansions, and unregulated growth. New Urbanists insist on revising established practices to provide greater visual order, conservation of open space, and reduced reliance on the automobile by increased emphasis on mass transit and pedestrian uses. In these efforts, they are part of a ‘‘smart growth’’ movement associated most closely with environmental stewardship and advocates of sustainable communities. But their goal is still broader. Seeing ‘‘the center of any vital democracy . . . seeping away in suburbs designed more for cars than people,’’ and special interest groups replacing citizens, they seek to spur a ‘‘cultural shift’’ to revitalize civic life. As Bruce Stephenson reports, New Urbanists wish to design towns ‘‘that venerate the civitas.’’8 While the principles associated with the New Urbanism owe much to the work of Leon Krier, especially his promotion of the urban village concept in England, 9 the acknowledged leaders in the United States have been the husband and wife team of Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk. Through their own design efforts, through their writing (starting with the 1994 book edited by Peter Katz, The New Urbanism), and through their organizational efforts, they have articulated principles that have no competitor in the effort to alter...


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