New urbanism, a philosophy in city and community planning, is an idea that grew out of a response to the negative effects of suburban sprawl. It promotes sustainable, livable, healthy communities that provide their residents with a way of life that has nearly been suburbanized into extinction. Since the advent of the automobile and the housing boom that followed World War II, suburban sprawl has reached into nearly every part of the country. America’s relatively cheap gas and power, abundance of natural resources, and room to grow have led to a landscape dominated by roads and strip malls.
New urbanism echoes traditional neighborhood design, in which communities revolved around a town center, with businesses mixed into residential neighborhoods and effective public transportation. The 1980s and 90s saw a rise in the popularity of new urbanism. With traffic congestion and commute time at an all time high, many people are supportive of city and community design that incorporates new urbanism philosophy. Grid design favors a “T” grid, which helps control the flow of traffic and discourages pass-through traffic.
One of the major foci of new urbanism is on creating a walkable community. Currently, Americans make only about 6% of their daily errands by foot. A community designed with new urbanism in mind has areas for pedestrians and bicyclists and places everyday services within walking distance.
The new urban community is non-automobile oriented, in contrast to many suburbs today. This encourages exercise and involvement in the community. Front porches are also encouraged for this reason, as they get neighbors out, sharing the area in front of their houses.
Green space is another important aspect of new urbanism, as well as green building. Green building encourages environmentally friendly and sustainable residential and commercial building. Aesthetics are very important, and many new urbanism designers successfully combine traditional features with modern design. Some new urban communities are more traditional in design and hearken back to a pre-war neighborhood.
New urbanism also focuses on mixed-use building in communities. This means that there are single family dwellings, multi-family dwellings such as row housing, office buildings with living space above and commercial buildings that provide important services to the residents of the neighborhood. Encouraging businesses creates jobs in the neighborhood, making it more convenient for residents to find work close by.
Andres Duany and his wife, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, are leaders in the new urbanism movement, and in part, they founded the Congress for the New Urbanism, which laid out 13 main characteristics of new urbanism. These include a neighborhood center, which the majority of buildings within 2,000 feet (609.6 meters). The neighborhood center should have buildings located in close proximity to the street. Services should be located on the outside of the community so residents don’t have to travel far for their normal daily needs.
Streets should be narrow, tree-lined and set up in such a way to give pedestrians and motorists many ways throughout the community. Elementary schools should be within walking distance for children. Playgrounds should be small and placed within a close walk of every home.
There should be different options for housing for families, singles, or retired people, in a wide price range. A small building or apartment over the garage could be used for rental or work space. Garages should be located in the rear of the home, accessed by an alley.
Civic buildings should be built in prominent locations. Finally, the neighborhood should be fairly self-governing, with decision-making power over issues pertaining to the community. Many cities and states are using a new urbanism approach to writing building codes and zoning laws, as well as in drafting legislation to contain sprawl.