Charter of the New Urbanism (Second Edition) edited by Emily Talen

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Posted 2013-08-19

People PlacesBook Notes by John December

This is a professional-level reference guide to the principles of New Urbanism. Filled with engaging essays, this collection is meant for practitioners, as the title and publisher (McGraw-Hill Professional) indicate. (For a gentle introduction to New Urbanism for a general reader, I would still suggest Suburban Nation.)

The actual Charter of the New Urbanism can be read online, of course in just two pages, so the main attraction of this book is its set of essays. The book's 62 authors tackle many topics, but I found these to be just a few of the lessons this book and the New Urbanism gets across:

  1. "No nation can afford a strategy of writing off its older areas and replacing them with developments on the edge of metropolitan regions." (p. 3)
  2. "... the drifting wreck of suburbia will require salvage work. That is the great design challenge of the twenty-first century." (p. 12)
  3. "The region, much like a neighborhood or street, can and should be 'designed'." (p. 22)
  4. "We need to imagine how to refashion our frighteningly expensive metropolitan infrastructure into something much lighter." (p. 25)
  5. "... we must be regional in our thinking, planning, and building." (p. 35)
  6. The Next Generation of New Urbanists seek to go beyond early success in resorts and suburban transformations shown by New Urbanism to the revitalization of existing cities: "...the American Dream has evolved to now be more about corner stores and street life and less about picket fences and backyards." (p. 54).
  7. On the use of historic precedent: "... [biological morphogenesis shows] a world full of precedent, pattern, boundaries--and great sustainability and great beauty, two qualities we desperately need now." (p. 71).
  8. "The trajectory of America's economic future is inextricably linked to America's ability to equalize access to opportunity." (p. 75)
  9. "... the transportation formula for livable, vibrant communities begins by rewarding the short trip and the pedestrian." (p. 87)
  10. The classification "compact urban" is a key aspect of transportation diversity, as "the most highly walkable areas [if a city or town] could be designated compact urban." (p. 89)
  11. Compact urban developments provide much more jobs and revenue per hectare than suburban or sprawl development. It seems "insane" for municipalities to focus and subsidize suburban sprawl, but they do. (p. 95)
  12. "The massive sprawl-creating operating system of separated-use American zoning is, slowly but surely, giving way [to SmartCode]." (p. 109)
  13. There is a tremendous market demand for walkable urbanism, but fulfilling this demand is "difficult." (p. 115)
  14. Freeways can reduce property value in cities. (p. 137)
  15. Congestion is a symptom of urban success, not a problem in and of itself. The right balance needs to be struck. For example, at one extreme is Detroit in 2013: bereft of activity in many areas, it has whole swaths of land that are congestion-free. (p. 138)
  16. "Appropriate building densities and land uses should be within walking distance of transit stops, permitting public transit to become a viable alternative to the automobile. (p. 145)
"What I find especially remarkable about the CNU is that it is the only group clearly committed to addressing the social and economic implications of design decisions," Foreward by Shelly R. Poticha (p. xiv).
In many ways, the CNU's motto, "It just works better" (used on membership brochures) is a good way to grasp the way CNU works and a recurring theme of this book. As Andrés Duany writes in the chapter, "20 Years of New Urbanism," the CNU listens to its critics and works to "instantly assimilate all good ideas." (p. 13)

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2024-05-14 · John December · Terms ©