Academic journal article Journal of Markets & Morality

To What Extent and in What Ways Should Governmental Bodies Regulate Urban Planning?

Academic journal article Journal of Markets & Morality

To What Extent and in What Ways Should Governmental Bodies Regulate Urban Planning?

Article excerpt


This controversy piece introduces readers to the New Urbanism (NU), a movement in architecture and planning that advocates the use of traditional neighborhood design to build walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods and towns that emulate places of enduring quality and provide an alternative to low-density, single-use, automobile-dependent development patterns commonly referred to as "sprawl." Critics maintain that what is derided as sprawl is simply the development pattern of choice as generated by market forces over time and that NU and related smart-growth policies and transit initiatives are at odds with the lifestyle preferences and homeownership goals of Americans. This essay explores these and other arguments that grossly simplify and misinterpret NU and present an outdated, myopic view of an ever-changing and diversifying real estate market in the United States.

New Urbanism

Herbert Muschamp, architectural critic for the New York Times, has described NU as the "most important phenomenon to emerge in American architecture in the post-Cold War era." (1) Complete with its own Charter, annual conferences, and growing membership in the official Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) organization, the movement attracts comparisons to the International Congress of Modern Architecture (CIAM), the equivalent organization for modernism, even while it defines itself in direct opposition to modernist architecture and planning. Dubbed an architectural fad by many observers in the early 1980s, the movement has continued to grow and diversify its base for more than two decades and shows no signs of waning.

NU is an umbrella term, encompassing the traditional neighborhood development (TND), or "neotraditional" town planning, of Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk; the pedestrian pocket concept presented in Kelbaugh's book of the same title (1989); the transit-oriented design (TOD) articulated by Peter Calthorpe and Shelly Poticha, and; the "quartiers" approach of Leon Krier. (2) New Urbanist design principles operate on a number of scales, from buildings, lots and blocks to neighborhoods, districts and corridors, and ultimately to entire cities and regions. Shared principles call for organizing development into patterns consistent with historic hamlets, villages, towns, and cities that were compact, walkable, mixed-use, and transit-friendly and contained a diverse range of housing.

Contrary to common critiques, New Urbanists do not advocate elimination of automobiles. In fact, New Urbanist design focuses heavily on how to manage traffic and accommodate parking without creating what James Kunstler refers to as "automobile slums." This involves calming traffic on quiet residential streets and main streets where people like to walk, and placing parking behind buildings, in courtyards, parking structures, and on street spaces to eliminate the moat of parking lots that push buildings apart and prevent the creation of human-scale public spaces. New Urbanist projects, particularly those involving intensive office and retail uses, regularly meet either conventional (single-use) or shared parking ratios (parking spaces per one thousand square feet of leasable space) defined by the real estate industry.

The neighborhood is advanced as an essential building block and is presented as an "update" of Clarence Perry's concept of the neighborhood unit in the First Regional Plan of New York (1929) that copes with today's larger institutions and heavier traffic volumes. (3) The neighborhood is defined as an area approximating a five-to-ten minute walk from center to edge assuring that neighborhood activities are within a convenient walking distance of residents. Within the neighborhood are located a variety of housing types and land uses, a mix of shops, services, and civic uses capable of satisfying many of the residents' daily needs. Streets are designed for pedestrian use, with generous sidewalks, street trees, and on-street parking to provide a buffer from street traffic and to make walking a more safe and appealing option. …

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