Wednesday, March 7, 2012

New Urbanism Prominent in Top Planning Trends

Planetizen recently published a ranking of the top planning trends for 2011-12.  Not surprisingly, new urbanism is an integral part of most of the trends.

The first trend is “tactical urbanism”, the barely-legal and often transitory installation of urban amenities that the community finds absent in their neighborhood.  Parks and libraries have been the frequent goals of tactical urbanism.  The guerrilla wayfinding that I described in a recent post is also a form of tactical urbanism.

But my favorite example of tactical urbanism is a shopping center built of shipping containers in Christchurch, New Zealand.  It was a grassroots response to the need to reestablish commerce in the aftermath of a massive earthquake.  New urbanism usually operates on a more permitted and more permanent basis, but it comes from the same emotion as tactical urbanism, a desire to insert the elements that are missing from daily life.

The second trend is public health, the growing awareness of links between health and the built environment.  New urbanism certainly participates in that discussion with the health benefits of increased walking, increased personal interaction, and reduced air pollution from cars.

The third trend is the “New Economy”, which Planetizen describes as a “catch-all to describe a number of trends impacting employment, transportation, housing, and urban and community development which have become more pronounced by the upheavals of the economic downturn”.   New urbanism isn’t the sole answer to the questions raised by these changes, but it provides a reasonable response to many of them.

The fourth trend is urbanism, the policies and attitudes we take toward our metropolises.  This is the arena for which the Agenda 21’ers have been defining the debate.  New urbanism isn’t necessarily about the existing metropolises, but it is about taking the best of the older cities and transplanting it into new places or places that are in need of a rebirth.

The sixth trend is high-speed rail.  Last fall, I attended an Urban Land Institute meeting about the proposed California high-speed rail project.  One of the speakers presented a scenario in which an attorney would live and work in a new urbanist neighborhood near the high-speed rail station in Fresno.  After visiting his office in the morning, he could take the rail to Los Angeles for a lunch with a client and then return to Fresno, change clothes, and take the rail to San Francisco with his wife for an evening show.  It was a stretch, but was a fascinating concept.  And the Fresno new urbanist community was an integral part.  High-speed rail is facing financial opposition in many areas, but it remains an inspiring vision if the costs can be controlled.

The seventh trend is the loss of redevelopment in California.  The issue here is whether an alternative structure for redevelopment can be created which requires less financial participation by the state.  New urbanism will likely make progress regardless of the funding options that are available, but redevelopment 2.0 would expedite the activiity.

The last trend is the use of public spaces, as exemplified by the Arab Spring and the Occupy movements.  No one is using neighborhood parks or suburban intersections for these upwelling of popular dissent.  Instead, the demonstrations are occurring in urban plazas and public squares, the exact places that new urbanism intends to create or to supplement.

New urbanism is the forefront of planning thought.  Now, the challenge will be to convert that intellectual energy into reality.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (

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