To address the major criticism (affordability and lack of economic mixing): each NU development requires haggling over special zoning, density, and street engineering, so there's a greater up front cost and risk for the developer which gets passed on to buyers. Second, there are very few NU housing units relative to standard suburban houses so demand outstrips supply, keeping prices high. Third, they make a conscious effort to be attractive and pleasant, both in the houses and neighborhood as a whole, so people are willing to pay higher prices. With explicit zoning approval, developers could build more units and there would be more competition so prices would go down. The end result would probably be prices about the same as standard houses, with a smaller lot, slightly smaller house, but in a more attractive, liveable neighborhood.
The biggest weakness I see is that they have only been done on the scale of a subdivision so it hasn't really effected shopping or employment patterns. Sure, many of them have pleasant town centers, but they get low traffic and are therefore much more suitable for professional offices or a few local things like a dry cleaner or child care.
New Urbanism is useful mainly as a showcase of how residential development could be. The work that has the potential to change the built environment much more are form-based zoning codes, also by Duany Plater-Zyberk. It basically specifies the envelope you're allowed to build in based on where you are but doesn't specify function. So in a dense district where 6 story buildings are allowed, it doesn't matter whether they are offices, condos, light manufacturing, etc, just as long as they're consistent with the form of the neighborhood and the road and transit capacity. Form based codes actually deal with the entire economy of residential, commercial, and office/light-industry, while New Urbanism only (in practice) deals with residential.
If a fast-growing municipality were to adopt these, it would give a good feel for what level of density and urbanity people were actually willing to buy. Urbanity and density that is a) low crime and b) has acceptable schools is extremely high priced because zoning has made it illegal to build almost everywhere.
It's easy to find places in the US that will let you build something like that. It's only hard to do it inside a core city.
Yes, it's probably true that no one is willing to let you run their whole city.
FWIW - I've found that ideas that only work on an unattainable scale have other problems that are often fatal on smaller scales.
There are entrenched business interests who fight vigorously to maintain the status quo. From site preparation crews to homebuilders to civil engineers to government bureaucrats, many people have invested over half a century in learning to do things in a certain, profitable, way and they do not want expensive and risky change.
Then there are ordinary people, who will oppose "cut through" traffic and dense (or any) neighboring development and commercial uses (next door though not across town). When they think retail, they think strip mall, and who can blame them for not wanting to live next to that? They want to preserve their property values by only permitting (more expensive and lower density) houses and green space on adjacent parcels. Most people don't care about things on non-adjacent parcels, although they will tend to dislike elitists or outta-towners who want to do something unusual in their regional vicinity.
We have an elaborate, comprehensive, uniform set of ideas and practices that are very well established in this country. Their scope is huge, governing everything from the (non)existence of street trees to the geometry of interstates. Although it's true that urban site designs complement each other, the problem with new urbanism is not that planning or design cannot work on larger scales. Pre-industrial towns and cities evolved urban design locally and without specialized professional oversight. Suburbia may not seem thoughtfully designed, but it is an existence proof that even ideas that do not work well at scale can nonetheless be widely adopted and carry enormous momentum.
The vast majority of the US has no zoning.
You're seeing obstacles because you're only looking at existing areas. It's quite reasonable for the current inhabitants to resist your takeover attempt. And yes, that's what it is.
> Suburbia may not seem thoughtfully designed, but it is an existence proof that even ideas that do not work well at scale can nonetheless be widely adopted and carry enormous momentum.
Suburbia works quite well for the vast majority of its inhabitants. This "scale" claim is just your attempt to try to convince them why they're wrong.
And yes, suburbia is "thoughtfully designed" - it just isn't designed to accomplish the goals that you value.
Your values are not universal. If suburbia doesn't work for you, get out. There are options.
But, stop trying to force people into your vision. And if you can't, at least stop complaining that they resist.
Also I've noticed many other new builds in the area are conforming to the regulation despite being outside its area of effect.
(Please note that, despite my tone in the above, I am very excited about the movement. :)
Sprawl can be made much nicer and less economically competitive by eliminating or raising maximum density limits, eliminating or lowering minimum parking limits, and channeling development into designated areas so that transit is easier.
For instance, look at Skarholmen, outside of Stockholm (http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&geocode=&q...) . It's Stockholm's sprawl, built in the 60's to handle population growth as Sweden urbanized.
The subway runs parallel to the highway, with regional draws (factories for employment, big shopping like Ikea) by the highway and local shopping like a grocery store, a small mall (Skarholmen Centrum), post office, etc clustered around the subway stop (the "T" on the map). There are apartments (3-6 stories) clustered around the Centrum, then townhouses beyond that and some houses beyond that. Nearby stops have small grocery stores (similar to a CVS or Walgreens) and apartments around them, and if people need more stuff they ride the train to Skarholmen. For specialized stuff they ride into Stockholm or drive/bus to the big stores by the highway. So most people don't need cars even for work or shopping.
Overcrowding? No, apartments are very affordable so people don't need to pack into them. Concrete jungle? Hardly, there are parks between every apartment building and raw forest less than a mile away.
So what's missing from here? That's not rhetorical, I'd really like to know what is bad about this compared to American-style suburbia. The only thing I can really think of is that very people have a private yard or an apartment big enough to entertain a lot of people.
Small businesses were about as common as in US suburbs.
I guess I misinterpreted your "once a critical mass of households own a car" comment.
> Small businesses were about as common as in US suburbs.
Virtually nonexistant in the US suburbs I come from. I think this quality is representative of suburbs in general, but mine may also be an extreme case.
The lack of small businesses is typical of suburbs, which are primarily places to live without a specific local economic purpose. Exceptions are typically hair salons, small restaurants, dry cleaners, etc.
It’s also more of an aesthetic judgement. I want to be able to get to work with a bike. I want many nice restaurants and coffeehouse within walking distance. I want to able to do all my shopping with my bike.
I’m more than happy to give up huge cheap living spaces and big malls and all the other little convenient things which make living in suburbia easy. I can see how others might have different opinions. Convenience vs. all the nice things. I pick all the nice things :)
The highway 30A coast, which includes Seaside has at least four examples of New Urbanist towns within a 20 mile stretch that is all bike-able. If you're into this kind of thing, it makes a great vacation spot.
If you want activities or restaurant recommendations, check out my wedding website which is still up: http://mattandmeara.com/more/
The basic premise being to deliberately create small, architecturally distinct neighborhoods with swaths of greenspace separating them, then joining them all together with a highly efficient public transit system.
It's an interesting read.
They're part of the Livable Streets organization..
Standard zoning laws prohibit greeting clients and similar business activity business out of one's home. This is indeed a constraint on property rights.
But zoning laws existed for many years before New Urbanism. As far as I can tell, the New Urbanism advocates mixed-use zoning, which would actually give a land owner more options than previously.
For all I know, property right may be dieing in this country but I can hardly see this as evidence.
How would you feel about your next-door neighbor turning their home into a slaughterhouse or paper mill or adult bookstore?
While Houston doesn't have formal zoning, a quick Google search (I've never been there) shows they do have extensive land-use regulation, including minimum lot size for single family homes (5000 sq feet) and requirements for parking for businesses.
So, if I wanted to place two single-family homes on my 9000 sq feet of land, or open a retail shop without providing parking, my private property rights would be infringed.
If you agree with that premise, it might be okay although it's not clear that it's a significant win over other urban forms.
If you disagree with that premise, it's a total disaster.
The typical response by new urbanists to folks who disagree with the premise is ridicule.
Note that the folks who disagree with the premise are perfectly willing to let the new urbanists do their thing.
I like how you coupled something a lot of people think is bad, with something few people think is bad, and present it as an all-or-nothing choice.
> "Note that the folks who disagree with the premise are perfectly willing to let the new urbanists do their thing."
I disagree. Suburban developers, along with the people who live there, are currently in the process of torpedoing a new mass transit rail system in Seattle - this is something that will take a lot of cars off the road, create new residential and commercial corridors with excellent transit coverage, and make communities more connected. Suburbanites fear the accessibility will destroy the exclusivity of their enclaves (which is probably true), and thus are trying to prevent this from being built.
Whether or not you agree or disagree with the concept of effective mass transit, there's no way you can claim that pro-suburb folk are a-ok with urbanist policies. American cities are littered with stories of urban initiatives torpedoed by people in fear of the destruction of their suburban lifestyles.
It's not my coupling - it's the new urbanists' coupling.
I don't know what a "hate cars, like lawns" or "like cars, hate lawns" vision would be, but neither is relevant if we're discussing new urbanists.
> > "Note that the folks who disagree with the premise are perfectly willing to let the new urbanists do their thing."
> I disagree. Suburban developers, along with the people who live there, are currently in the process of torpedoing a new mass transit rail system in Seattle
Not so fast - they're refusing to pay for it. That's very different. If it was such a great idea, if there actually were people who placed as much value on these things as they cost, you wouldn't need funding from other people.
> this is something that will take a lot of cars off the road, create new residential and commercial corridors with excellent transit coverage
These are things that you value - they don't.
> Suburbanites fear the accessibility will destroy the exclusivity of their enclaves (which is probably true), and thus are trying to prevent this from being built.
"exclusivity of their enclaves" sounds like projection.
> American cities are littered with stories of urban initiatives torpedoed by people in fear of the destruction of their suburban lifestyles.
Not at all. They're merely refusing to pay for the lifestyle that you'd prefer.
That hammer swings both ways - infrastructure costs substantially less in denser, more urban areas. Hell, here in Seattle the per-mile operating cost for buses is three times higher in suburbs than it is in urban areas. Us urban folk are paying for your excesses too - garbage generation, water usage, the sheer amount of pollutants those 2 cars in your garage are pumping into the air... practically all resource usage on a per-capita basis is much higher in suburbs. This is well before we get to the gigantic amounts of money we have to pay to support the roads you insist on clogging up.
It's hard to say where the balance lies - whether, after all is said and done, the suburbanites are subsidizing the urban lifestyle, or vice versa. Whichever it is, the truth is far less clear-cut than you're trying to project.
> "It's not my coupling - it's the new urbanists' coupling."
I've met many urban planning proponents, and none are against lawns. I think this is projection on your part, more alarmist "they hate our way of life" shit.
> "I don't know what a "hate cars, like lawns" vision would be"
Then you haven't learned enough about this. Urbanism is not solely the idea of high-rises and towers of glass and steel, it is also a large part about walkable neighborhoods with a central focus on mass transit. None of this precludes, for example, townhouses where you can maintain your yard and private spaces. There are many ways to be sustainably urban and maintain many of the main perks of the suburban lifestyle (backyard BBQ? check). To suggest that you can't IMHO is fearmongering amongst suburbanites who think that removal of the automobile from their life would mean wholesale destruction of their lifestyle.
And you see the savings. Since suburbs pay for their infrastructure....
> Hell, here in Seattle the per-mile operating cost for buses is three times higher in suburbs than it is in urban areas.
You're confusing your numbers. The operating costs-per mile (consumables, employee salaries, capital costs, maintenance) should be roughly the same to lower in suburbia (slightly higher mpg and lower maintenance because not as much stop and go). The ridership is probably lower, but that's not operating costs.
Then again, it's mostly dumb to run buses in suburbia. We do it because urbanites think that doing so benefits them and/or because they insist on "regional funding" and suburbia says "if we're paying, you're serving us too".
If the cost of buses in suburbia bothers you, don't do it, and don't ask them to pay for urban transit either. (Take all you want at the fare box.)
> the sheer amount of pollutants those 2 cars in your garage are pumping into the air
Cars in the garage don't pump anything into the air.
The pollution costs are in the noise. And suburbia pays for gas.
> This is well before we get to the gigantic amounts of money we have to pay to support the roads you insist on clogging up.
If we're talking about suburbia's roads, those roads are paid for by gas taxes and developer fees and "donations" in the suburbs. (I've been involved in some development. The land for roads is typically "donated" by the developer, which means that the home owners actually pay for it. The roads themselves are built by developers.)
If you're talking about urban roads, shut them down and do transit your way. Since you're paying, do as you will.
And no, you can't have gas tax money if you're not serving cars.
> Urbanism is not solely the idea of high-rises and towers of glass and steel, it is also a large part about walkable neighborhoods with a central focus on mass transit.
It's interesting that "new urbanists" seem to think that live-work and the like is new. It isn't; it's actually quite old. More to the point, one can find it in most major cities.
New urbanists come in saying "let me run things and we'll all have free ponys". They don't bother explaining why this time will be different.
I've seen the pitches. They're heavy on the asserted benefits and light on explaining why they'll actually happen, especially given the actual experience.
Goals aren't arguments.
I read a piece once called something like "A woman's place is in the city" which talked about how suburban sprawl is very much a bi-product of the traditional nuclear family with man as breadwinner, woman as homemaker, and 2.5 kids to raise. It only really works well for that social set up. If mom is not primarily a homemaker (with maybe a part-time job) who can shuttle the kids around, suburban sprawl is very isolating for kids -- or anyone else who doesn't drive/can't afford their own car (the poor, the elderly who can't safely drive anymore, etc). American demographics have changed and most "family units" no longer fit the nuclear family model. So suburban sprawl serves a great many Americans quite poorly, regardless of their opinions of cars or lawns.
MZ: wannabe urban-planner who got sidetracked along the way.
True but irrelevant because no one said that suburban living was for everyone and suburbanists are happy to let folks make (and pay for) other choices.
It's the new urbanists who are pushing a "universal" vision.
As I wrote above, if something works only if everyone does the same, it probably doesn't actually work.