Wednesday, April 12, 2006

New Urbanism

On the way back from my self-inflicted torture session, I heard a neat NPR piece on a new-urbanist housing development in Atlanta. New urbanism is a movement in urban/city/community planning to return communities to the way they were in the pre-automotive era; it mixes residential, commercial, and recreational areas together and emphasizes walkability. I think it's an interesting idea, though I'm not sure how well it works in practice. Give the NPR article a listen and let me know what you think. I'm particularly interested to hear what those of you in who both (a) live in an experimental community and (b) are studying city planning---you know who you are---have to say about this.


  1. Anonymous11:56 AM

    I head that piece on the way home yesterday. A more knowledgabe source of information than myself, who has been reading New Urbanist propaganda since she was in high school, found it interesting and agreed with both the endorsements and criticisms presented.

    Personally, I've been to two New Urbanist developments, Stapelton in Denver and the Kentlands in Rockville. I thought the former was really wonderful, and if they could just run a light rail line to it, it could approach many of the ideals of New Urbanism. As it is being built on the site of the old airport in Denver, it is also big by the standards of New Urbanist developments, which I think will help it in the long run quite a bit. The latter is a classic misfire, with over-tangled streets, twee architecture, and insufficient size and access to let its commercial space develop properly.

    The development described in the NPR piece sounds a lot more like Stapleton than it does like the Kentlands.

  2. Anonymous2:11 PM

    Some more about New Urbanism (NU). There is some debate as to whether NU communities actually get people out and walking more, or if people who like to get out and walking are more likely to move to NU communities. My advisor recently finished a study following children who moved between typical cul-de-sac neighborhoods and more 'walkable' neighborhoods. He found that there isn't a significant change in weight for children who have move between these types of developments.

    Related to NU is Transit Oriented Development (TOD). The idea that clustering high density destinations like shopping, jobs, and housing, near transit will support transit ridership. An idea with merit, but ineffective if not adopted at a region-wide scale. Take Silver Spring for instance. Fits the definition of TOD, but Nick and I drive there, and I don't think we are unique in this regard. If there were a purple line...but I think you know where I stand on that.

    Also, Michael, you've mentioned several times that you prefer the train to a bus. You are not alone. Unfortunately, there are precious few locations where a bus route has been replaced by fixed rail line, or vice versa, available for study. However, common belief is that buses have a poor repor with affluent riders and will therefore not attract as many passengers. For these reasons, many pro-transit folks support projects like Atlanta's light rail. On the other hand, there are some people, LA Bus Riders Union for example, who feel that fixed rail is a pet project for rich folk, since most fixed rail brings suburban dwellers into jobs in the city. They feel buses, which more often serve poor riders, get short changed. This is especially important since most job growth is occuring in the low-density suburbs where poor people cannot afford to live, where fixed rail is inappropriate, and where bus service is the only option.

  3. Those are all good points, No One.