New urbanism is not the most popular concept when it comes to community design. But one positive that comes out of new urbanist design is that they are generally very walkable places. A recent article on CNN highlights seven “retro” new urbanist communities around the country, and most of them will be very familiar to those with a planning background. A quote by David Rusk hits a major problem with new urbanism: “It often lacks a social justice, a social opportunity component,” he said in the article. “There’s almost a complete absence of any economic diversity” (He is an excellent speaker, by the way).
So, of course, the next question is, what is my take on new urbanism? Well, it certainly beats the trend of the last few decades, or “new suburbanism.” But as mentioned in this article, many of these communities are over-planned, meaning they are planned down to the very last detail. Real communities do not have this. Real communities thrive on spontenaiety. Would you see so-called bohemians that you might find on winding down Haight Street in San Francisco on the same streets in these master-planned communities? I highly doubt it. Unless there is flexibility involved. There is a lot of NIMBY-ism (Not In My BackYard) out there, and certainly I do not enjoy everything flexibility has to offer, but there is enjoyment in surprises of what might lie ahead on the next block. Almost anyone would have to admit, it is more interesting to walk through an older neighborhood with a typical grid pattern than a new curvy-road sameness suburban sprawl subdivision. And why? Because it is different, it is unique, it does not all look the same.
Some people fear the unknown. But for the rest of us that do not, we need to stop development from becoming all too familiar. Not just like every other block in any town in America. If new urbanism helps combat this sameness, then I am all for it.