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Are You a New Urbanist?

How should we design our cities and towns?

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American Strip Mall

American Strip Mall

Photo Eugene (cc) Flickr Member Peretz
Are you a New Urbanist? Take a moment to answer True or False to these statements:
  1. American cities need more open space.
  2. Residential areas should be separate from commercial activity.
  3. City building styles should express great diversity.
  4. American cities and towns need more parking.
Done? Ok, now scroll down to read what New Urbanist thinker James Howard Kunstler has to say about the design of America's cities. If you find yourself agreeing, then you can call yourself a New Urbanist, too. Disagree? Speak your mind.

Answers From a New Urbanist

1. American cities need more open space.
James Howard Kunstler says: False.
"We haven't been building towns in America," Kunstler says. "We've been building UFO landing strips." Consider the desolate appearance of vacant lots and meaningless strips of lawn. European villages and older American small towns convey a sense of security because buildings and trees form a comforting street wall. But in America, many urban areas have too much open space, and too much space that is poorly defined, Kunstler says.

2.Residental areas should be separate from commercial activity.
Kunstler says: False.
Divorcing commercial and residential zones leads to suburban sprawl, congested highways, and air pollution. Meanwhile, Americans opt to vacation in traditional villages like Nantucket, where small shops nestle alongside private homes. If you want to make your communities more appealing, Kunstler says, base your zoning ordinances on traditional principles of civic design.

3. City building styles should express great diversity.
Kunstler says: False.
"Diversity alone is meaningless," Kunstler says. "Without orders of unity, diversity doesn't work." In older European communities like the Santillana del Mar, Spain, buildings are generally the same size in height and mass. While there is variation in architectural styles, there is harmony. Compare Europe's cities with Las Vegas, Nevada. "We have streetscapes that are not just meaningless," Kunstler says. "They are psychotic."

4. American cities and towns need more parking.
Kunstler says: False.
Americans, Kunstler says, are living in a "national automobile slum." Our landscape is dominated by parking lots and barren multi-lane highways. Our cars are literally running us out of town. The solution? Design pedestrian villages, where shops and civic buildings are steps away (see # 2). Place buildings closer to roadways, and hide parking areas behind.

"Every time you put up a building not worth caring about, you contribute to a city not worth caring about and a country not worth caring about." ~James Howard Kunstler

Is America ugly? Have America's cities and towns become unattractive and inhumane? Speak your mind.

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