The New Urbanism and the Communitarian Trap (PDF)
Great piece from the Harvard Design Magazine, Winter/Spring 1997, Number 1. New Urbanism is the model that many US cities are attempting to adopt to make sense of their post-industrial communities.
While dipping a toe into the ocean of material about urban design, I was surprised at just how many issues the practice touches — everything from battling crime to creating community to the industrial design of lampposts — and how many of the issues I was at least somewhat familiar with.
But can “community” really rescue us from the deadening world of social dissolution, grab-it-yourself materialism and individualized, selfish, market-oriented greed? Community has always meant different things to different people, so what kind of “community” is understood within the philosophy of the New Urbanism? It is here that harking back to a mythological past carries its own dangerous freight.
The New Urbanism in fact connects to a facile contemporary attempt to transform large and teeming cities, so seemingly out of control, into an interlinked series of “urban villages” where, it is believed, everyone can relate in a civil and urbane fashion to everyone else. In Britain, Prince Charles has led the way on this emotional charger toward “the urban village” as the locus of urban regeneration. Leon Krier, an oft-quoted scion of the New Urbanism, is one of his key architectural outriders. And the idea attracts, drawing support from marginalized ethnic groups, impoverished and embattled working-class populations left high and dry through deindustrialization, as well as from middle- and upper-class nostalgics who view it as a civilized form of real estate development encompassing sidewalk cafés, pedestrian precincts, and Laura Ashley shops.