A movement that aims to combat a perceived breakdown in the way that contemporary urban areas are evolving. New Urbanism encompasses city planning, architecture, transport, education and society within its blueprint for better cities.
The core of the New Urbanist philosophy is a return to the type of planning that once existed when society was broken up into smaller urban units. A key element in achieving this is the idea of the third place, a communal centre of some sort. Other features are the reduction or better yet elimination of the automobile from urban living and a corresponding reduction in the distance from the home of a citizen to any service essential to their everyday life.
Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk set out some guidelines for New Urbanist planning and design:
- A neighbourhood should have a clearly defined centre about which everything else is built. This would typically be a green place and would also include a mass transit station.
- Most homes should be within five minutes walk of the centre.
- There should be a wide variety of dwellings available to accomodate different lifestyle, family and wealth factors.
- The edge of the neighbourhood would be ringed with shops supplying all normal household needs.
- Houses would have a small building in their backyard which would provide a place to work or be creative.
- A school should be located close enough for children to walk to school.
- Numerous playgrounds should be present throughout the area, no more than 100 metres from any home.
- Streets are an interconnected network, providing multiple pedestrian or vehicular ways to get to a given destination.
- Streets are narrow and shaded with trees to encourage walking and slow traffic.
- Buildings surrounding the centre are placed close to the street to act as the walls of a well-defined hub in the middle of the neighbourhood.
- Parking occurs behind buildings and does not face onto the street.
- Prominent locations are reserved for civic buildings such as religious sites, communal meeting places and cultural and educational buildings.
- The community is self-governing. A formal body exists to deal with important local issues; taxation is the domain of the community at large.
These principles have been succesfully employed in a number of American developments in the late twentieth century, and has even gained a foothold in the redevelopment of the mecca of urban sprawl, Los Angeles. The importance of communal places in a healthy society have been echoed by many other schools of urban design and planning. The focus on reducing the dominance of the car and commerce over the individual and the community is also very appealing to many people. Perhaps the biggest advantage is that the philosophy does not eliminate our comfortable modern houses or restrict the advantages of a metropolis - it merely provides a local focus for community life.