Introduction – A brief history
With the industrialization of cities, there was the advent of automobiles and the increase in car-use. Although cars are abundantly used around the world both in the Global North and Global South, there are increasing movements being formed against car-use and increasing walkability in cities. These movements do not just focus on walkability, they promote bicycle use in cities and the use of public transport. There are many car-free zones and pedestrianized public spaces being formed in cities to increase people’s physical activity and to decrease automobile use. New Urbanism is one such movement which promotes walkable neighbourhoods, including a range of housing solutions to provide a car-free environment. They support the construction of more open spaces, safe streets and pedestrianisation as a way to combat suburban sprawl.
Congress for New Urbanism
Congress for New Urbanism is the main body that organises the New Urbanism movement. Andres Dunay and Elizabeth Plater – Zyberk, who are a couple, are the two main founders of The Congress for New Urbanism. The movement promotes walkablity, mixed-use neighbourhood, sustainable communities and healthier living conditions. The main principles of New Urbanism include:
- “Livable streets arranged in compact, walkable blocks.
- A range of housing choices to serve people of diverse ages and income levels.
- Schools, stores and other nearby destinations reachable by walking, bicycling or transit service.
- An affirming, human-scaled public realm where appropriately designed buildings define and enliven streets and other public spaces”
The practice of New Urbanism has spread across the world since its inception in 1993. It was a way to suggest alternatives to sprawling communities. This is because the majority of the middle class in America live in the sprawl and peripheries of cities rather than being centrally located. Because their houses area located far away from the central city, there is a need to be reliant on cars for transport because public transport is not reliable and convenient for people, especially when they need to travel often for work and other shopping purposes. New Urbanism criticizes the modernist practices of architecture and planning that arose in America after WWII. They have transformed urban design principles and have changed many cities in America into healthier and more accessible cities.
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Examples of New Urbanism
A well known example of New Urbanism is Seaside Florida. This coastal town’s main purpose was to improve the well being and community among the neighbourhood. Increasing public spaces to create communal bond was thought to be an important component of Seaside Florida. Seaside’s layout included the principle of ‘five minute walk’ to encourage quarter mile walking on foot, as houses were built alongside public spaces to create more walkability among the community. Today, however, Seaside Florida has become a very expensive million dollar community rather than an affordable place for city residents to live as it was originally planned for. Plater-Zyberk suggests that the town can be used as an example for further research in creating high density and mixed use cities.
Cornell in Markham is another example of New Urbanism principles that were redeveloped by the Markham City Councillors in coordination with the firm Duany Plater-Zyberk. The plan had around 27,000 people accommodated in the houses including many schools and community centers with shopping accessibility and supermarkets. It also had a large retail space, that would have been useful for people living in walkable distance to the stores. People could walk to the stores and there was accessible public transport from all neighbourhoods to the schools, jobs and shopping needs of people. Cornell included a community park, a hospital, a library and management facilities which were all located within walkable distance.
There are many other examples of cities that have adopted the New Urbanism design, including a minimum of 20 to 30 communities worldwide, in Canada, Europe and other western countries. India is not in the list for developing New Urbanism as there needs to be a lot of improvement in India’s streets and public spaces before adopting New Urbanism principles. As western countries already provide most of these facilities, relocating and readapting the designs would be simpler and more practical.
Conclusion – taking New Urbanism forward
Therefore, the designs adapted by New Urbanism has left a lasting impression on many communities worldwide, particularly in the west. Many of the cities that followed New Urbanism principles have become very successful and sort after towns as people enjoy being centrally located with good transport facilities without being able to rely on cars. Walkability is one of the main concepts of New Urbanism which has been successful in influencing other such movements such as the car-free movement and placemaking movement. It is important to understand these principles of New Urbanism for the benefit of future community well-being, which can be practiced and designed around the world.
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