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 Grade 12

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.