Cities Plan to Build a Sense of Community Municipalities like Broomfield, Colo., Adopt 'New Urbanism,' a Design Approach That Stresses Mixed Use and Neighborliness

By Malcolm Howard, Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, March 11, 1996 | Go to article overview

Cities Plan to Build a Sense of Community Municipalities like Broomfield, Colo., Adopt 'New Urbanism,' a Design Approach That Stresses Mixed Use and Neighborliness


Malcolm Howard, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


TRY to take a scenic tour of this growing community, and you are hit with a patchwork of land-use contradictions.

Drive-through banks and car dealerships abut weathered 19th-century farmsteads. Rolling fields of alfalfa are fenced in by tight rows of boxy, three-story homes; a skyline of uniformly angled roofs juxtaposes the jagged peaks of the Rocky Mountains.

Now, in an effort to curb these hodgepodge growth patterns and preserve open space, quiet streets, and small-town friendliness, Broomfield is embarking on a new master plan for development.

In doing so, this municipality of 30,000 joins a growing number of cities around the country adopting a city design philosophy called "new urbanism," an architectural movement that has bloomed in recent years in response to what some see as unrestrained suburban sprawl.

"The problem for Broomfield and many cities isn't growth per se," says Peter Calthorpe, a new urban architect based in San Francisco. "It's how growth usually occurs that is so harmful to our environment and our sense of community."

Catering to cars, not people

The problem, Mr. Calthorpe says, is that in appealing to people's desire for solitude, safety, and predictability, most modern suburbs are showcases for repetitious architecture that gobbles up open space and caters more to cars than people.

Though Calthorpe's views are shunned by many architects, his critique strikes a chord in many cities like Broomfield. Last year, city planners hired Calthorpe to help script Broomfield's new master plan, which in essence requires all future developments to be built in accordance with new urban principles.

They are called "new urban" largely because they draw inspiration from the kind of neighborhoods that grew on the outskirts of cities such as New York, Cleveland, and Philadelphia prior to World War II.

The old neighborhoods fostered a sense of community that is lacking in most modern subdivisions, new urbanists say. Instead of driving to the shopping mall for clothes, food, or entertainment, they point out, people in the old developments walked to nearby shopping areas, meeting their neighbors along the way.

Most baby-boom subdivisions, on the other hand, promote isolation and sameness, new urbanists argue. The suburbs isolate people by making the car the major force behind suburban planning; people leave the community for most of their needs. Further, developments built since World War II promote homogeneity by segregating people into enclaves defined by income bracket, age, or family size, Calthorpe says.

That approach is anachronistic, he says. "Our society is much more diverse than it was in the '60s. The 1990 Census, for example, shows that only one-quarter of the population is families with kids - and only 14 percent fit the American-dream stereotype of the mom, dad, and two kids {with one wage-earner}. The rest of the population is 'other.' "

Developers, Calthorpe says, should build communities that fit these "others" by combining apartments, town houses, and single-family homes - even commercial and civic centers - all within "mixed use" zones.

One case in point is Broomfield's new downtown - called for in the town's master plan and now under way. Designed as an alternative to strip malls and "big box" retail stores, Broomfield's downtown will mix retail outlets with office space and some residential apartments.

An idea that's catching on

At the same time, the master plan calls for the creation of a half-dozen smaller village centers built near residential communities, where residents can walk to video stores, pick up their dry cleaning, or take out a book from a satellite library outlet.

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