If you’ve read David Wang’s essay “Meditations on a Strip Mall,” you’re already aware that, while it may not be controversial, New Urbanism enjoys less than universal favor among architects and/or urban planners. So we offer three sources for information on the subject-one neutral, one that strongly advocates NU, and one that offers a trenchant criticism of NU’s ability-or lack thereof-to create community.
We don’t know how you feel about Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, but it’s the best place we’ve found for getting an overview of the new urbanism-what it is, where it comes from, its main advocates, and some of the things it’s criticized for. While the Wikipedia article is still under development, more or less, it contains a lot of information and provides any number of links for continued exploration, as well as other suggestions for further reading. Just click here.
According to its homepage, the Website NewUrbanism.org “was started in 1998, and has since grown to become a leading and well respected informational website promoting good urbanism, smart transportation, transit oriented development, and sustainability. NewUrbanism.org is independently owned and operated and is not connected to any organization, corporation, or public entity.” We take them at their word, especially as the the site serves as a gateway to a massive amount of information. A “featured books” page provides an extensive listing of book and films on urbanism, transportation, and sustainability. A good entry point to the Website is its page on the principles of New Urbanism. Enjoy.
Back in 1997, David Harvey, a professor pf geography at Johns Hopkins University, published an article in Harvard Design Magazine titled, “The New Urbanism and the Communitarian Trap.” Anticipating Wang, Harvey was critical of what he saw as the movement’s underlying assumption that “proper design and architectural qualities will be the saving grace not only of American cities, but of social, economic, and political life in general.” But Harvey doesn’t stop here. He goes on to question some of our most cherished assumptions about “community” in our increasingly materialistic and atomized society, and explores what he calls “the darker side” of communitarianism-community as a means of exclusion, rather than the reverse. Scholarly in tone, it’s nevertheless a fairly profound exploration of the subject and well worth reading. A PDF version is available here.
OK, we said three, but to be fair, we’ll add one more reference. In an article in Comment, an online magazine from Canada, Eric O. Jacobsen offers a rebuttal to the critiques of Harvey and others. But he then goes on to consider the charge of elitism that’s often been leveled against New Urbanism. He takes this charge seriously, and rather than attempting to rebut it, offers some considered thoughts about the ways NU could avoid the pitfall of elitism. The success of New Urbanist developments, he says, “should be evaluated not on market value or housing starts, but rather on how their existence improves the quality of our older urban environments. . . . Without the vital connection to the broader public welfare, the movement could truly be in danger of utopianism, nostalgia, and elitism. If New Urbanism is to avoid this fate, it must take seriously the perspectives and experience of those living in paleo-urban environments.” Click here to read the article.
This is just a smattering of the many online resources available on New Urbanism. We could have included any number of other articles for you to read and sites to explore-such as the Online NewsHour’s special report on NU-but you know the drill: just do a Google search for “New Urbanism,” and see what turns up.