‘New Urbanism’ came onto the scene in the early 1990s and continues to be the rage amongst urban planners. But is it really new? Let us have some fun…
A New Urbanist and a German Villager walk into a bar…
German Villager (GV): So, you’re a New Urbanist from Vancouver?
New Urbanist (NU): Yes, as a matter of fact, I am!
GV: Nice. What is it anyway? (sips beer)
NU: Oh it’s soooo cool…it is a new way of urban planning, really people-centric ya know?
GV: People, I like people. Tell me more. (sips beer)
NU: Well, it creates pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods, you know, walkable. Houses are built sustainably, with local materials- green building, real stone, wood, energy efficient. All the houses are built to human scale, not these huge suburban mansions on one-acre lots where nobody talks to anybody. Ideally, they have a central feature, park or square, with a lot of green space. Each house should have garden space; you know where they can grow their own veggies.
GV: Meat man myself…weinerschnitzel, brats…
NU: Weiner WHAT?
GV: Never mind…go on. (sips beer)
NU: So we focus on reducing stuff that alienates people- like needing a car to get everywhere. It’s not like we want to go back to the horse and carriage…
GV: Archaic fer sure…(sips beer)
NU: Yeah so houses are accessed from the rear, off alleys, and streets are narrower to calm traffic and reduce maintenance costs.
GV: Interesting. What about retail? Strip malls are kinda nostalgic. (sips beer)
NU: Oh, that is easy, they incorporate that right INTO the neighborhood! The idea is for people to be able to walk everywhere, get to restaurants, get the kids to school; the homes can double as workspaces. A lot of them are built to include a home business space for artisans, you know people who make specialty things like bakers, or maybe even small office space for services such as a lawyer or something. It is really designed so people can easily live where they work.
GV: Sounds like a great place to live.
NU: Yeah, it really is the future.
GV: Sounds kinda crowded (sips beer)
NU: That works in our favor. Houses are smaller and tightly plotted for efficiency. Streets are narrower, like I said, to cut down on maintenance and to encourage fewer cars. People can bike, walk or use SMART systems. It’s all about efficiencies. Even the architecture promotes efficiencies. Transom windows…know what those are? They are so cool, they are windows that open above doors.
GV: Odd (sips beer)
NU: They pull heat out and let cool air in when they are set crosswise in a house- you know- open windows on both sides of the house and let the air go through. You don’t need to use AC so much! Gotta lower the carbon footprint somehow.
GV: What about water? How do you handle that? Let me guess- wells.
NU: Well- ha- great question! Get this, we put in cisterns, you know a catchment system, to capture rainwater off of the gutters from the roofs! We don’t waste that- it goes straight onto the backyard veggie gardens. Circular. And composting toilets too! Not the old kind, haha, throw a little lime on it and you’re good, hahaha.
GV: Novel idea. (sips beer)
NU: Yep I love this stuff; I am all about living in community, having a sense of community. We are missing that these days. Everything is so, so transient. Our neighborhoods should give us a sense of stability- you know homes that will stand the test of time. New Urbanism means houses are placed close to the street, it creates this sense of permanence- you know solid construction, security.
GV: What about rentals? Is this New Urbanism affordable to most?
NU: Yes! A lot of the houses have rental units or are used as rentals- the goal is diversity. We have carriage style houses at the rear of some properties. We want to encourage a range of age groups, you know, a place friendly to kids but also a place where older people can age in place, affordable. Some apartment blocks are placed into the neighborhood too, but they are to scale…not these huge nondescript suburban boxes with balconies sticking out the side. In New Urbanism, you can walk outside and get your feet on the ground, play in your own yard! It’s the future man, the future.
GV: The future. (sips beer)
NU: So, what about you? Your neighborhood adopt any of this stuff?
GV: Yep. (sips beer)
NU: Cool, when they start?
GV: 1840 (Swills beer, hands tab to NU, walks out)
“NEW URBANISM promotes the creation and restoration of diverse, walkable, compact, vibrant, mixed-use communities composed of the same components as conventional development, but assembled in a more integrated fashion, in the form of complete communities. These contain housing, workplaces, shops, entertainment, schools, parks, and civic facilities essential to the daily lives of the residents, all within easy walking distance of each other.
New Urbanism promotes the increased use of trains and light rail, instead of more highways and roads. Urban living is rapidly becoming the new hip and modern way to live for people of all ages. Currently, there are over 4,000 New Urbanist projects planned or under construction in the United States alone, half of which are in historic urban centers” –www.newurbanism.org
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