Once upon a time I believed that ‘New Urbanism’ was just a developer’s clever way of cramming more residential Lots into an estate, creating residential sub-divisions defined by over-bearing garaged streetscapes, abundant paving and almost non-existent landscape.
New Urbanism is an urban design movement which promotes walkable neighbourhoods containing a range of housing and job types.
To date one of the flaws with this approach has been that whilst the ‘walkable’ bit is achieved, there is often nowhere to walk to… no mixed use retail-commercial village centres, no local stores or services etc. One still has to get into a car to reach anywhere meaningful. What has been missing is the whole macro-economic design stage. The New Urbanism approach only seems to have real potential when done at significant scale, for example when a new village or town is being created. Otherwise it really can be just a way to cram more into less.
The even newer kid on the block is ‘New Pedestrianism’ [NP][coined by Michael E. Arth in the US]. This takes the concept of new urbanism but seeks to fix some of the main flaws, being car-centric streets and hard alleys. NP makes the front ‘street’ pedestrian only, with all vehicle servicing via the rear streets. The concept below is by Michael E.Arth;Out of sheer curiosity I thought I’d try to compare these with each other from a developer perspective to try to see what some of the drivers might be. The New Urbanism and Pedestrianism models have a range of sustainability virtues but I’ll visit these another day – some at least are revealed in this comparison (Lot sizes are indicative only for comparison – will vary between countries);
So why, despite the perverse incentives for both the developer and local Council to adopt the traditional suburban development [developer has the most land to sell, local Council has the least land to maintain], are we seeing a growing number of developments that are focussing on all the good stuff that New Urbanism/Pedestrianism might enable?
I’m a big believer in good aesthetics being a strong selling point for real estate, and I suspect this may be at the root of why more developers (and purchasers) are placing real value in street trees, more greenery, community space (commons) and less dominance by the automobile. Our lifestyles are also of course swaying us towards smaller lower maintenance Lots. As a by-product there are a raft of great sustainability / resilience outcomes that actually reduce running costs for all concerned.
Keep an eye on the ‘Front Yard Blitz’ series as I explore many of the elements found in both New Urbanism and New Pedestrianism – as to which one is ‘best’?
Well, I’m sure it won’t be as clear-cut as that… ; )