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REPLANNING SUBURBIA: THE NEOTRADITIONALISTS
Ask a group of planners to name one urban designer, and the chances are that a considerable number of them will name Andres Duany. The Cuban- born Duany is the most prominent exponent of neotraditional design, also sometimes referred to as the New Urbanism.
Left, a pedestrian bridge connecting the town center with an adjacent residential area in the planned community of Reston, Virginia. Below, a view of the town center across Lake Ann (an artificial lake). Much of the town is designed to facilitate transportation on foot and by bicycle.
Most of U.S. population growth is going into the suburbs, and Duany and other neotraditionalists insist that, by and large, the suburbs have been planned wrongly.9 They tend to lay the biggest share of the blame on the traffic engineers but still reserve a great deal of blame for the planners. Using Duany's phrase, highway engineers "want cars to be happy," with the result that there has been an overemphasis on planning for the automobile. Meeting traffic flow and parking goals took precedence over designing for people and for walkable environments. New urbanists fault suburban planning for an excessive separation of land uses, particularly residential use, from other uses, and for laying out land uses at too coarse a grain. The result is that distances between uses become too great for convenient walking and therefore people are forced into excessive dependence on the automobile.
Neotraditionalists argue that excessive dependence on the automobile degrades the quality of life in many ways. Older people lose their independence in the suburbs, not when they are too infirm to walk but when their eyesight no longer permits them to drive. At that point, people who are otherwise able to live independently become dependent. At the other end of the age spectrum, suburban children have much less autonomy than city children because they have to be driven everywhere.
Neotraditionalists argue that designing for the automobile produces pedestrian-unfriendly patterns that inhibit walking even when the straightline distances are not great. For example, even if the main road has only two lanes, turning lanes may double the road's width near intersections. The combination of wide streets and the absence of sidewalks makes walking unpleasant and sometimes a bit threatening. In traditional urban areas, streets meet at right angles, thereby forcing cars to slow down considerably to turn. By contrast, a rounded corner with a wide radius that permits cars to negotiate the turn without much slowing can make crossing intimidating, particularly for someone who, for reason of age or disability, cannot move very fast. Yet highway engineers often favor this type of intersection because it speeds the traffic flow.
Neotraditional planning is so named because much of what the neotraditionalists advocate harks back to traditional city and town planning practices, which were rejected in modern suburban planning. Neotraditionalists advocate the mixing of uses at a fine grain. They note that zoning originated to separate incompatible uses but that there is much less need for this technique today than at the turn of the twentieth century. For example, much manufacturing today is quiet and clean, and there is no reason why it cannot be located relatively close to housing. It is important that buildings in an area be in scale with each other, but not that they all be for the same type of use or for the same type of inhabitant. Like Jane Jacobs (see Chapter 9), they argue that excessive homogeneity of use and building type leads to sterility and inconvenience. They suggest that apartments over stores and accessory apartments on single-family lots (for example, the garage that has been converted into a one-bedroom apartment) would go a long way to solving the problem of the shortage of low- and moderate-income housing. And they note that, regrettably, most suburban zoning codes prevent construction of these types of units.
Neotraditionalists place great importance on pedestrian-friendly streets. The traditional city street with, say, two lanes for traffic, one lane on each side for parked cars, and sidewalks, is pedestrian friendly. Because it has only two lanes of traffic that move at a moderate speed, it is easy to cross. The lines of parked cars offer the pedestrian on the sidewalk a sense of security because there is a barrier between him or her and the moving vehicles in the street. Buildings should be brought up close to the street, and parking beyond what can be accommodated on the street should be located behind the building. Preliminary data developed by John Gilderbloom of the University of Louisville suggests that when streets are converted from two-way to one-way in order to speed traffic flow, property values tend to fall. This is consistent with the neotraditionalist emphasis on pedestrian- friendly street design.
Neotraditionalists see the typical shopping center or office park design in which the building is set back and isolated from the street by a large parking lot as a design disaster. Even the most unattractive building "gives more to the street," according to Duany, than does a sea of parked cars or, when the cars are not there, a sea of asphalt. Neotraditionalists like alleys, since these permit parking to be placed behind buildings. The alley avoids the need for the typical suburban residential design in which half of the frontage of a house consists of a garage door. The neotraditionalist vision of good design necessarily implies fairly small lots, for widely spaced houses discourage walking.
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