Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Urban Research

The Ironies of New Urbanism

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Urban Research

The Ironies of New Urbanism

Article excerpt


New urbanism principles increasingly influence planning practice and policy in several countries. This review suggests that experience with new urbanism projects has begun to expose some contradictions between theory and practice. The rhetorical strategy taken by new urbanism proponents attacks conventional twentieth century planning paradigms and principles. Practice, however, reveals several ironies for new urbanism: it appeals to traditional forms and values while adopting modernist tactics; it supports enhancing the public realm while advancing the private realm; it advocates urban forms while building suburban enclaves; it calls for democratic and participatory communities and an egalitarian social vision while insisting on the need for expert judgement and producing developments for elite consumers.

Keywords: New urbanism, urban design, planning theory


Les pratiques et politiques d'amenagement que l'on retrouve dans plusieurs pays au travers le monde sont de plus en plus influencees par les principes du Nouvel Urbanisme. Cet article tente de demontrer que les projets en Nouvel Urbanisme ont recemment commence a reveler des contradictions entre la theorie et la pratique. Les partisans du Nouvel Urbanisme s'attaquent aux principes d'amenagement conventionnels du 21 e siecle. Par contre, les pratiques d'amenagement revelent un certain manque de coherence: dies adherent aux formes et valeurs traditionnelles tout en adoptant des tactiques modernistes; dies encouragent le champs publique tout en avancent le champs prive; elles favorisent les developpements model& suivant une forme urbaine tout en batissant des enclaves typiques des banlieues modernes; elles appuient les approches participatives et les communautes egalitaires tout en insistant sur un jugement d'expert et produisant des communautes pour les elites.

Mots cles: Nouvel urbanisme, design urbain, theories d'urbanisme

Rhetoric and Practice

Popular planning movements have the potential to polarize. While many planners find themselves swept up in the euphoria of a persuasive paradigm, eddies of disbelievers whirl about trying to navigate the dizzying phenomenon. Planning today finds new urbanism inundating growing expanses of territory. New Urban News, the newsletter of the American new urbanism movement, claims projects in a dozen or more countries; each year the tally of proposed and completed neighbourhoods grows.

For the last seven years I have tracked the literature and practice of new urbanism. In the process, I have recognized the challenges of implementing a revolutionary planning paradigm. Investigating new urbanism in practice reveals several ironies: discontinuities between the values that new urbanism practitioners affirm and those that new urbanism practice exemplifies. Practice inevitably exposes the inconsistences of even the most powerful and persuasive theories.

In an effort to unseat the powerful urban development paradigms of the twentieth century--modernism and the garden city--new urbanism approaches explicitly aligned themselves with contrasting values. Whereas modernist ideas underscored twentieth century development, the new urbanists turned to traditional principles and practices. Where the private landscapes and neighbourhoods of the twentieth century reflected the pinnacle of achievement, new urbanism would focus on enhancing the public realm. Where garden city ideas generated expanding suburbs on every front, new urbanism would advocate a return to an urban approach. And where twentieth century planning relied on bureaucratic planning processes that allowed NIMBYism to hijack agendas, new urbanism would identify principles to reveal democratic values. The discourse of new urbanism proponents reveals the importance of the attributes traditional, public, urban, and democratic to establishing the innovation of new urbanism from the models it seeks to supplant. …

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