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New Urbanism and the Inflexibility Myth

Urban market photo - courtesy of foodmuseumblog.com

Randy Bright argues in the Tulsa Beacon that new urbanism is basically too inflexible and too surburban for its own good.

The criticism around inflexibility is rooted in the notion that there are all these cumbersome rules regarding the look, feel and requirements for communities that want to be included in the new urbanism fold. This inflexibility, he further argues, makes new urbanism “invalid” since the restriction prevents future generations from creating cities that can be responsive and competitive in a way that supports sustainability.

This article highlights for me one of the biggest challenges to entrenching new urbanism thought in our society and that is a pervasive misunderstanding of the concept.

Randy bases most of his argument on observations shared in a 1998 paper written by planner Ruth Durack.  Durack considers new urbanism’s “obsession” with the English village design a stodgy approach rooted more in the movement’s abhorrence of cities and preference for satisfying some notion of consumer preference for far flung suburban living in surroundings that resemble a by-gone era.

The new urbanism that I understand is not so much obsessed with the traditional village design, but rather celebrates home and community designs that bring people together.  Frankly I couldn’t care less which century we borrow from but I do care about comfort, accessibility, affordability, efficiency and beauty and most importantly so do many buyers/renters.

Further, new urbanism is definitely not a movement interested only in suburban development. New urbanism principles and designs are doing wonders for our cities–a fact that is reflected in the new plans and developments being considered and adopted by cities across the country .

This movement, in fact, relies heavily on the strengths of some of our cities’ older infrastructures and city plans (e.g., mixed housing developments interspersed with cultural institutions, markets, parks, etc.).

I’m sure as time goes by and more new ideas are injected into the new urbanism genre, concepts will naturally evolve and change to respond to the preferences of the current generation while (hopefully) staying true to the principles and goals we wish to achieve for the health of our environment and the sustainability of our regions.

Cleveland offers a great example of a challenge ridden but grand old city, pulling the best from its cultural past to create something new and engaging for existing and prospective residents.  Watch the video below to learn about Cleveland’s exciting Market Square Park initiative:

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