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The Old Urbanism (1.1)


I’m old but not beyond learning. So I really wish someone would explain the “New Urbanism” and convince me it may be something other than a colossal case of the emperor’s new clothes.

Until I can afford a copy of The Charter of the New Urbanism, the sources I have are my own limited observation: coverage in the architecture mags for New Urbanist communities that all seem to be in Florida–Seaside, Celebration and Ave Maria (Tom Monaghan’s ghetto for ultra conservative Catholics; no Mass in the vernacular tongue here, thank you very much). Aside from stylistic earmarks (Post-Modernism) and an enlightened view about the role of the automobile in civic life, I see narrow, self-selecting communities of mono-chromatic upper middle class folks who wouldn’t want to hang with anyone outside their income bracket. I would be tolerated in any one of these communities, but only as 1) an architectural tourist, or 2) a migrant worker behind the counter at the $12-a-burger Malt Shoppe who actually lives in a trailer park twenty miles down the road. “The Truman Show” and “Pleasantville” do little to help the New Urbanist cause. If this is cynicism, then guilty as charged.


A view of Rosemary Beach, Florida, from buildingsavvy.com

Has there been a serious double-blind study of a New Urbanist community that shows its demographics? I’d genuinely like to see a map of Seaside that overlays information such as: 1) cost per square foot of both residential and commercial properties; 2) property tax valuations for same; 3) number of square feet per person for residences; 4) income levels of residents (and whether they are permanent residents or seasonal “summer people”); and 5) some assessment of the non-residents employed there–the folks who actually sling burgers, cut the grass and trim the topiary, wash windows and do other domestic chores (The Help), bag and deliver groceries, etc.; what they’re paid per hour and the extent of their health care and retirement programs. I have my suspicions.

Now, it’s very likely that the three Florida examples on my radar are not truly representative of the full program New Urbanism has to offer. Examples in Colorado, Oregon and New Jersey may temper my sense of the movement’s applicability in more temperate zones and across the economic spectrum. Do I see the makings of an ARCH 720 seminar here? Hmmm.

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