I grew up in a town where you would have to drive everywhere. Simple tasks such as getting a haircut, running to the hardware store for duct tape, or even getting an ice cream cone on a summer evening became hour-long expeditions, as the automobile was the only possible source of transportation.
Unfortunately, most Americans experience this daily, victimized by the suburban sprawl. In retrospect, life in the suburbs seems attractive, living in secluded, private neighborhoods in close vicinity to shopping, entertainment, and schools. This "close vicinity" acts as a fallacy to the actual convenience of the suburban lifestyle. People find themselves having to drive to each destination. This problem persists as the ideology of suburban development segregates the use of land, creating isolated pods that one can only travel by car. These isolated pods include separate neighborhoods, shopping centers, schools, and office parks. With more time spent in the car, Americans have less time to foster community with friends and neighbors.
Since the 1980’s, many architects, urban planners, and developers have been re-examining America’s planning methods. This design effort, called New Urbanism, created and developed sustainable communities. New Urbanism is the creation of walkable, livable communities, that give the pedestrian equal right to the automobile. They integrate the aspects of residential living, businesses, shopping, and education. When compared to normal widespread suburban development, these traditional communities are more compact. In the residential areas, this translates in to smaller, more energy efficient housing, with proportional lot sizes. Garages and driveways move to rear alleyways allowing front yards and streets to become backdrops for social interaction and community. These communities create a sense of place and atmosphere as space is defined by both architecture and nature. In the commercial and business areas, the concept of the big box is discarded. The layout of stores, offices and restaurants are modeled after historic districts of urbanized downtowns. Instead of creating large parking lots, parking is designated to the sides of streets, forming a barrier between pedestrians and automobiles. This forms a safe, enjoyable path for people to shop, dine, and complete necessary errands, not needing to drive between each task.
New Urbanism has many economic and social benefits. It greatly reduces human reliance on the automobile which in turn means lower gas consumption, benefiting our pocket and the environment. Children have the ability to become more independent, choosing alternative transportation such as walking or biking, when needing to run errands or visiting a friend. Standard suburban development takes little consideration for the integration of various economic classes, separating neighborhoods, townhomes, and lower income apartment buildings. New Urbanism works to integrate these classes, by offering a variety of income level houses, and designating lower income apartments above local shopping and business space. This mixed-use allows individuals of lower income to live and work without needing an automobile for transportation.
New Urbanism achieves community, efficiency, and economic savings in which standard suburban development cannot allow. It offers a better quality of living benefiting both the individual and the environment.
Contributed by Zachary Moshier, Architecture Student, Judson University
Suggested web links:
http://www.cnu.org/ – Congress for the New Urbanism
http://www.dpz.com/ – Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company
Referenced and for further reading:
- Flint, Anthony. This Land: The Battle over Sprawl and the Future of America
- Langdon, Philip. A Better Place to Live: Reshaping the American Suburb
- Langdon, Philip., and Robert Steuteville. New Urbanism: Comprehensive Report & Best Practices Guide