John Bentley Mays contrasts the ambiguous invocations of “community” and the focus on doing good works aimed at worthy but abstract causes with what he perceives to be a lack of interest in true communal experience.
Can urban design activate the collective
behaviour necessary to create a true community? This is the claim of New
Urbanism, an approach to planning that emphasizes mixed residential-commercial
zoning, walkability, traditional streetscapes and appealing public spaces.
Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk are both architect-developers and the
most widely recognized standard-bearers of the movement. In 1993 they helped
found the Congress for the New Urbanism, which advocates public-policy changes
that facilitate the kind of development they practice. The most famous depiction
of a New Urbanism community is Seaside, a Florida resort town that put “DPZ” on
the map and, incidentally, was used as the location for the feature movie, The
Truman Show. An interview of the team appeared in April 2000 in The Atlantic.
For links to projects, people, articles, and
books, organizations and other resources on New Urbanism see:
Alex Marshall’s best-seller How Cities Work, Suburbs, Sprawl and the Roads not Taken uses a handful of case studies to highlight how new developments and old urban spaces are used as specialized zones providing distinct, compartmentalized and complementary forms of cultural experience. He accepts that “trip-taking,” something that New Urbanism seeks to decrease, is a cornerstone of American life as it offers the power to transport oneself to a diverting variety of environments each serving a different function and providing a different service. While joining in the lament of generic space, Marshall at the same time points to the power of the market to create illusions as antidotes to “placelessness” and cautions that New Urbanism may also follow this path.
He writes: ... like the construction of coherent
physical spaces, the construction of coherent communities is not something to be
attempted directly. Rather, one has to understand what produces both places and
communities, and what weakens them, and address those forces.”
For an in-depth critique of New Urbanism see
“Peter Gordon's Blog”: A blog from the School of Policy, Planning, and
Development University of Southern California that explores the intersection of
economic thinking and urban planning/real estate development and related
big-think themes. It includes an excellent bibliography on related issues.
History of Suburbs, "Sprawl” and New Urbanism-Resources for Educators
Extensive site with Flash offering an exploration
of a New Urbanism neighbourhood. It offers lesson plans for Kindergarten through
American Landscape and Architectural Design, 1850-1920, provides materials that will aid in the development of critical thinking skills. Search keywords: housing developments, Sunny Brook houses, and Calvert houses to locate examples of the expanding suburbs in this vast Library of Congress digital archive of plans and photographs of design projects.