Sunday, March 25, 2007

Misconceptions of Smart Growth, New Urbanism and TOD

I would consider myself a New Urbanist and a Smart Growth advocate but I'm not sure that i would characterize it as wanting people to live on top of each other or even communism as some have so put it. Just like with rail transit versus the automobile, people like to have choices. And given that the vast majority of new construction are single family homes, this doesn't match up with consumer choices. The reason we know this is because this condo boom is always reviled as a rich boom. There is a huge demand and people will pay premiums to live in urban settings over suburban ones. Building neighborhoods is something that was forgotten between the era of streetcar suburbs and today.

What the New Urbanists are trying to do is bring that neighborhood structure back. You might hate the modernest architecture and the silly color schemes but that isn't what New Urbanism is all about (although its a hot type right now and all builders will want to claim new urbanism in their projects). A lot of projects are on greenfields where people have their own yards and the ability to walk in their neighborhood with interconnected streets and connections to transit. The projects you hear about are the infill projects where developers are fighting to make building density and mixed use legal again since it has been outlawed in many cities by post war zoning codes. That causes quite a rile in newspapers and media but doesn't tell the larger story of the movement.

In New Urbanism there is a strategy for design called the transect. It talks about the densities that should be employed from center city to the rural. You'll rarely see anything but single family homes in the T1 or T2 settings(The transect goes from T1 which is the most rural to the T6 which is New York City type density). So while many might think that New Urbanists and Smart Growth types are all about shoving density down your throats, its really all a misconception of how the movement operates and how it values neighborhood design that goes back to the streetcar suburbs that had grid street patterns and good transit options. If more people had the choice of walking, biking or taking transit we would have less of an issue with peak oil or oil at all.

1 comment:

Dave P. said...

That's a great capsule description of New Urbanism, and it's too bad more people don't know what it's really all about. I hear too many diatribes about how New Urbanists want to "shove density down our throats."